Monday, September 15, 2014

The University District

Detroit University district

The University District is a signature Detroit neighborhood known for its ornate single family homes and strong community.  Like all neighborhoods in the country, the UD suffered from depressed home values and foreclosures during the housing crisis.  In 2010, I briefly considered buying a house and I fell in love with a listing in the neighborhood but even at a bargain price I couldn't afford to buy a house on a single income.  Now that property values are steadily rising, I still can't afford the neighborhood. Lucky for me I have friends who can and will live vicariously through their house hunt.  Since it's football season Danny had to stay home and watch the Lions lose but prospective homebuyers Chris and Emily joined me on the University District Community Association's biannual Home and Garden Tour.  It was a beautiful day to walk the neighborhood and I was left with some serious house envy.

Detroit University district

I find the character of older homes irresistible and the University District is overflowing with it.  Rounded door entry-ways with brick details and stained glass windows are commonplace.  Every house we visited had several lead windows and most of them had far more than that.  It might not be great in the winter but it sure is breathtaking to admire.

Detroit University district

Notice anything unusual about this house? No front door! The corner lot has a side entrance that is bound to leave many delivery trucks confused.  This beautiful home was not always so lovely.  A few years ago it was bank owned and in disrepair.  Fortunately, it was purchased buy a family who took on the challenge of restoring it to its former glory.  The Detroit News did a story about it last week so it's the only home you can actually see interior pictures for.  If you look through the gallery you'll notice that the neighbors share a patio they call the "Bistro".

Detroit University district

During our walk through the neighborhood we met Rod Murphy. He was repairing the front of his house after a tree fell on it during a recent storm.  He bought his home eight years ago and it's one of the first houses built in the neighborhood.  The home's style is unique because the design wasn't popular with prospective buyers at the time and the developers decided to change the neighborhood designs to Tudor styled homes.  Rod was very friendly and open about his experience in the University District so I couldn't resist asking a couple questions.  

Why did you buy a house in the University District?

I only lived about a mile from here. My previous home was by Marygrove so I knew this area pretty well.  When I was younger - if you lived on the westside - this is the area everyone wanted to move to. When you are younger you couldn't afford it.  When I could afford it, I bought a house over here.  We looked at about eight houses and most of them are Tudors but we liked this one because it was different. 

What do you like about the neighborhood?

Do you see this neighborhood? [laughs] It's quiet. How you see it right now is pretty much how it is all the time.  The neighbors are good.  They're all homeowners. You don't have a lot of people renting so the neighborhood doesn't change very much.  It's a stable neighborhood.

There's a lot of development going on on Livernois. Are you noticing changes? Are you looking for something to happen in particular?

My sister-in-law owns a store. She owns Lola's.  I'm a photographer and there are a couple stores up there I do photography for.

What would you like to see Detroit look like in five years?

I'd like to see the neighborhoods go back to being neighborhoods and not abandoned houses.  I'd like to see all the shopping districts full and not abandoned.  Nothing new, I'd just like it to go back to almost where it was. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Happy Friday!

H&M Kate Middleton blue and white stripe shirt

I love Kate Middleton's fashion.  She has a half foot on me so I can't pull off most of her looks but there are a couple staple pieces I keep an eye out for. Last year I found a sweater similar to the one she wears and this year I finally found a striped shirt.  Blue and white stripes aren't hard to come by but the ratios never fit my taste.  This shirt from H&M is perfect and has nice gold buttons accents.  Please note I'm only playing model because H&M didn't provide one.

I'm looking forward to a very busy weekend.  Tomorrow we're headed back to the eastside for the annual yard sale in Indian Village.  The neighborhood has always been special to me because it's the first time I saw ornate historic homes in Detroit.  Granny took me through the neighborhood when I was younger and I use to beg her to buy a house there. Saturday evening we will reprise BSG game night with Brett and Lindsey.  Sunday I'm going on a home and garden tour with Chris and Emily in the University District.  I also desperately need to make it to the gym and will assume a little Game of Thrones will be watched as well (Danny finally found a show he can watch for more than one episode).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Dequindre Cut

I'm attracted to big cities because I love the idea of not needing a car.  A sacrilegious concept in Detroit perhaps but I hate traffic and dream of the day I can walk or take public transit to get to the places I need to go.  The Dequindre Cut is an example of what I'd like to see throughout Detroit. It is quiet, peaceful and connects key parts of the city: downtown, Lafayette Park (a residential neighborhood) and Eastern Market.  People can walk/bike to recreation, housing and food. Formerly an abandoned rail line, the pathway is a project of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and reminds me of my favorite place in New York City - The High Line. They are both peaceful oasis in the middle of big city movement.  The Cut doesn't have the same activity as the High Line but I hope to see more in the future.

The Dequindre Cut starts near the river at the Globe Building and ends at Eastern Market.  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is constructing an outdoor adventure center in the 120+ year old building and I'm very excited about the project.  A rehabilitated facility and a fun, educational activity for families is exactly what Detroit needs.  It is scheduled to open this year and I can't wait to check it out.

Another project that is expected to begin construction this year is a new housing/mix-use development.  It's a big plan that will bring much needed housing to the area.  While the common story about Detroit is the people moving out of the city.  A quieter story is the limited housing options available to people trying to move to Detroit. The river is a perfect area for this project and I expect the units will go quickly.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Detroit Riverfront

Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

I'm ashamed to admit that it took us until this weekend to make it to the Riverwalk. Well, that's not exactly true, I have been to the river many times but I haven't done the walk in its entirety. Since we lost power Friday night we needed somewhere to spend our Saturday morning. It was a cloudy but rain-free day and we took Gwen for a long walk starting at the Renaissance Center and turning around at Harbor Town (so yes, we still have more to do).

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is one of Detroit's greatest assets.  In a decades time, the non-profit organization has acquired development rights and transformed three and a half miles of the riverfront that spans Joe Louis Arena to Belle Isle.  This year it expanded further west as part of its plan to reach the Ambassador Bridge.

Historically, Detroit has benefited economically from its location on the water but I don't feel like the river has truly been part of the city's identity.  Cars, Motown and hockey, yes.  Water, not so much.  I imagine this is partially due to the fact Michigan is the Great Lake state and for a long time people could find more accessible bodies of water nearby.  Prior to the Conservancy, the river was virtually cut off to pedestrian traffic and those decades of disconnect have inevitably left many unaware of the beautiful public space that now exists.

Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

Along the path there are numerous sights and activities: splash parks, boat docks, historical markers, picnic shelters and more. It's the perfect place to walk, run, bike, relax and take in the city. The Conservancy provides both public restrooms and free parking lots.  The latter is especially significant to me because my suburban sensibilities are most pronounced when confronted with paid parking.

Considering the realities of Detroit I often find myself qualifying certain things to temper expectations - 'This (location) is great but...'. The caveat is not necessary for the riverfront.  I mentioned last week how impressed I was by Nashville.  That city does many things very well but I took great pride in knowing our riverfront was more impressive.  The Conservancy does an incredible job and should be a  model for other cities looking to develop similar public space. My only critic is that there are no maps to show people where they are or where to find destinations on the river.  The map on the website and brochure is perfect and I would LOVE to see it posted in intervals along the trail.

I'm not an Eastside girl.  That side of town seems so far from most of the things I do and definitely the people I spend time with.  Nevertheless, the river tempts me. I could very easily get use to the idea of getting up in the morning and running or biking along the river.  Tomorrow, I'll share more about why this area is hard to resist.