New life near Livernois





The revitalization of the communities around the University of Detroit Mercy continues.

Last week, University President Antoine Garibaldi joined city organizers at the groundbreaking of two new community assets: the Neighborhood Homebase and Ella Fitzgerald Park. While the two sites serve different purposes, they’re each meant to contribute to the region’s growth and serve the unique needs of the neighborhoods around the university.

 “The act of revitalization and stewardship must be rooted in the specifics of place and the fiber of culture and traditions of service that have been layered overtime and define how a community works” said Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation, which financially supported the sites.

As one of the speakers, Garibaldi noted the excitement of being a part of such an event and the important role the University of Detroit Mercy has in it.

“Detroit Mercy’s role in this effort is primarily to be a convener, a conduit and a facilitator so that we can achieve Live6 Alliance’s four primary goals: placemaking, neighborhood stabilization, business attraction and retention, and also safety and security,” he said.

The Neighborhood Homebase, on McNichols Road, will be the new home for Liv6 Alliance and the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC).

Launched two years ago, by the University of Detroit Mercy, The Kresge Foundation, and Detroit Economic Growth Corp, Liv6 Alliance is a non-profit planning and development organization for the Livernois-McNichols area, that seeks to most effectively enhance the area by engaging the local higher education colleges, and by building on the assets of the community.

Since its creation, Liv6 has facilitated Saturday farmer’s markets across from the university, helped Motor City Match reach out to businesses for expansion and real estate, aided new businesses like Detroit Sip Coffee, and recruited artist for art commissions.

Supported by Kresge Foundation, a $3.5 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America's cities, the Neighborhood Homebase is a part of a $20 million investment over the next five years to revitalize the Livernois-McNichols area.

Along with Liv6, DCDC will also have a home in the Neighborhood Homebase.

DCDC is nonprofit architecture and urban design firm at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture, dedicated to fostering a collaborative process in order to have spaces and communities that are inviting and stable.

For Dan Pitera, associate professor of Architecture and executive director of DCDC, the Neighborhood Homebase not only realizes his dreams of the DCDC but it also provides more opportunity for architecture students on campus.

 “We have a full-time staff of about 7 or 8 professional architects, landscape architects, and urban designers and students can come and work alongside them full-time like students would with doctors at a teaching hospital, Pitera said. “It really is a university program, as students have worked on this project with us, the Ella Fitzgerald Park, as a part of their educational process, although not physically in the classroom in the DCDC.”

However, the most significant part of the Neighborhood Homebase is that it is available as a public space for people to be involved and engaged in what they want to see happen in their community, whether they are having block meetings or asking questions about opening new businesses. 

With the same mission of fostering community engagement and restoration, the Ella Fitzgerald Park groundbreaking is the first major construction of the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project – a two-year, city-led project that’s funded through public and philanthropic investments like Invest Detroit and Greening of Detroit.

Named after the musician, Ella Fitzgerald, the 2.5-acre park is intended to be a place to bring people together and connect across differences. Located between Prairie and San Juan Streets, the park will include multipurpose sports fields, basketball courts, a playground, picnic areas, greenspace and more by the summer of next year.

Additionally, the park will have two 80-foot murals by Detroit artist, Hubert Massey: the “Hands of Happiness,” with colorful hands to reflect the culture and resilience of the people in the Fitzgerald neighborhood and “Celebrating Resilience,” with images of trees and houses that symbolize the long rich history of the neighborhood.

For Mayor Mike Duggan, the groundbreaking of Ella Fitzgerald Park is more than just making something of unused land, but it is the vision of all 600 families who stayed in the neighborhood all these years, despite the decay going on around them.

It is also an example of how vital community involvement and input is in revitalization of an area, especially in Detroit, Duggan said.

The project will not only provide a new park, but it will also rehab 115 vacant homes for rent or sale, demolish 16 homes and turn nearly 200 vacant lots into gardens, greenways, meadows or other community resources.