Opinion: Remembering the Past While Considering the Future

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For the first time in a half century, Detroit could follow a national trend and remove aging I-375, cutting off express downtown access for tens of thousands of motorists a day in favor of a pedestrian-friendly parkway connecting Lafayette Park and Eastern Market with the central business district. – http://www.freep.com/article/20131124/BUSINESS06/311240072/I-375-downtown-MDOT

This is sure to be another hot-button issue for Detroit and surroundings (like we don’t have enough of that).

I, for one, find it incredibly ironic that the very area they’re considering removing infrastructure is right where the “Powers that Be” destroyed the black neighborhood called Black Bottom along with it’s more vibrant northern neighbor, Paradise Valley. Further contributing to the irony is the timing of the razing of the Brewster-Douglas buildings. Some of the residents of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley relocated to large public housing projects like Brewster-Douglass and Jeffries.

By the 1950’s, the city had, for years, been ignoring the plight of the black folks who lived there. Let’s not forget that blacks were denied entrance into white neighborhoods and, so, ended up in poor and blighted areas like Black Bottom. When it came time to add infrastructure as a result of the post-WW2 development in Detroit, they used the incredibly blighted conditions in Black Bottom as an excuse to propose a new highway (375) which would, of course, run right over and through the neighborhood. So, by the 1950’s, the residents of the entire neighborhood were given 30 days notice to vacate their homes with no relocation help from the city or county.

And some were surprised by riots just a few years later…

“I remember standing there with my dad, looking over in that big pit, in that crevasse and seeing that and my father saying, ‘This used to be Hastings,’” Music says of the Chrysler Freeway. – http://www.blacdetroit.com/BLAC-Detroit/November-2013/Black-Bottom-Life-before-Lafayette-Park/

Whether or not the city needs I-375, or walkable surface streets in its place, I do not know. Surely there is a need to reduce the infrastructure in the 140 square mile city. But if they tear that freeway up, I believe the area’s past should be remembered when considering its future.

Just one man’s opinion.

For more information about the history of both Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, I refer the reader to an article posted by the Reuther Library: http://www.reuther.wayne.edu/node/8609

This one posted by Rogue HAA, a design, architecture, and urban advocacy collaborative: http://roguehaa.com/a-brief-history-of-detroits-black-bottom-neighborhood/

And, finally, one from the Detroit Historical Society: http://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/black-bottom-neighborhood