Many cities looking to revitalize their urban centers
have turned to greenways to spur economic development. Greenways are pedestrian or bike paths that typically run between parks, museums, or shopping districts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on hopes that greenways will breathe new life into one of America’s most blighted urban landscapes:
Many cities looking to reviatlize their urban centers have turned to greenways to spur economic development. Greenways are pedestrian or bike paths that typically run between parks, museums, or shopping districts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on hopes that greenways will breathe new life into one of America’s most blighted urban landscapes:
This abandoned rail line twenty-five feet below street level might not be many peoples’ first choice for a walk or a bike ride. But Tom Woiwode thinks soon it might be. Woiwode is the director of the GreenWays Initiative for all of Southeast Michigan. When he takes a look down this former Grand Trunk Western Rairoad line in Detroit, he doesn’t see the fast food wrappers, tires, and crashed and rusting shopping carts. He sees trees and grass and benches. And more importantly, he sees people, and places for people to spend their money.
“So maybe a bike repair shop, restaurants, some opportunities for music venues and those sorts of things, so people can ride their bike on down to the riverfront and along the way either stay here for lunch, or along the way stop and rest and enjoy the ambiance, or take their food and go on down to the riverfront where they can enjoy the extraordinary natural resources of the river as well.”
We’re standing near the city’s sprawling open-air produce market. It’s one of the most popular draws for people from inside and outside the city limits. When it’s complete, the greenway will link the market to Detroit’s greatest natural asset: the Detroit River. Greenways are a new redevelopment concept in Detroit. But elsewhere, Woiwode says, they’ve proven a well-tested urban redevelopment tool.
“In fact, back in the late 90’s, the mayors of Pittsburgh and Denver – two municipalities that are roughly similar in size to Detroit – both characterized their greenways programs as the most important economic development programs they had within the city.”
Minneapolis is another city that’s had success with greenways. In fact, backers of the greenway plan in downtown Detroit say they were inspired by a similar project there. Last month, Minneapolis completed the second phase of what will eventually be a five-mile greenway along an abandoned rail line much like the one in Detroit. It’s called the Midtown Greenway. And it’ll eventually link the Chain of Lakes to the Mississippi River thruogh neighborhoods on the city’s south side.
Eric Hart is a Minneapolis Midtown Greenway Coalition board member. He says even the greenway’s most avid supporters joked that people might continue to use it as a dumping ground for abandoned shopping carts like they did when it was just a trench.
“Since then, since it was done in 2000, there’s been a lot of interest in the development community to put high-density residential structures right along the edge of the greenway. And it’s viewed more like a park now.”
Since the first phase was completed in 2000, one affordable housing development and a 72-unit market-rate loft project have been completed. And five more housing developments – mostly condos – are in the planning stages. Hart says people use the greenway for recreation and for commuting by bicycle to their jobs.
Colin Hubbell is a developer in Detroit. He says he’s all for greenways, as long as they’re not competing for dollars with more pressing needs in a city like Detroit: good schools, for example. Or safe neighborhoods. Hubbell says the question needs to be asked: If you build it, will they come?
“I’m not sure. I’m not sure, if, given the perception problem that we have as a city, how many people on bikes are going to go down in an old railroad right away, I’m not sure even if that’s the right thing to do, given the fact that – I mean, we have a street system. And just because there’s a greenway doesn’t mean if somebody’s on Rollerblades or a bicycle that they’re not going to stay on a greenway.”
Hubbell says Detroit already has a lot of streets and not much traffic – leaving plenty of room for bicyclists. Hubbell says it might be cheaper to paint some bike lanes, and put up signs. But he says connecting the city’s cultural and educational institutions, the river, and commercial districts with greenways is a good idea – as long as they’re running through areas where people will use them.
Kelli Kavanaugh says that’s exactly what’s happening with greenway plans in the city. Kavanaugh is with the Greater Corktown Economic Development Corporation in southwest Detroit.
“You can’t just stick a greenway in the middle of a barren, abandoned neighborhood and expect use. But when you put one into a growing neighborhood, a stabilizing neighborhood, it really works as another piece of the quality of life puzzle to kind of support existing residents, but also attract new residents to the area. It’s another amenity.”
Greenway backers say for a city struggling just to maintain its population, Detroit can only benefit from safe, pleasant places to walk and bike. And if other cities are any indication, they say greenways should also help bring another kind of green into Detroit.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.