Borders of Opportunity

It’s time to finally shed the negative narrative of inner-ring municipal borders as dividers between Detroit and its border communities. The common narrative frame about suburbs and Detroit municipal borders typically focus on borders as physical and emotional dividers. Instead let’s reframe the municipal borders as positive opportunities that benefit everyone.  Detroit and the inner-ring suburbs have much in common, but our region doesn’t talk too much about the commonness, instead the focus seems to fall back on the differences that separate us.

After ten years in working in urban planning and living a block north of 8 Mile, I finally visited the 8 Mile Wall. The wall was built to separate blacks and whites from a new neighborhood housing development of single-family homes. The wall is a historical reminder of division and separated-ness, not only between race and people, but of neighborhoods and cross-border communities.  (A great book about suburb/core city housing policy is: Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, which influenced me during graduate school).

8mile wall_mel reflection bus tour participants
Reflections of me, in mirror shards embedded in the 8 Mile wall and the bus tour participants.  Created by artists, the mirror shards now reflect a wall of hope and opportunity, shedding its former narrative of racial housing separation.

This visit to the 8 Mile wall was a quiet time to reflect on the past, but mostly for me it was about demonstrating opportunity and forward progress across the Detroit and Ferndale municipal borders, specifically.

I had a small window to highlight what I believe are the opportunities between Detroit and Ferndale.  Opportunities that support people, neighborhoods and business.

The Bus Tour

In early December 2014, the Community of Foundation of Southeast Michigan (CFSEM) invited me to serve as one local bus tour speaker for visiting Federal Reserve Bank representatives.  Recently, the CFSEM and the Federal Reserve commenced a working relationship through the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, an organization that convenes the national philanthropic network to assist communities and regions advance policies of inclusiveness, civic engagement, collaboration and governance. Basically, the funder network holds many tenets of my professional tenure at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance.

The bus tour was designed to highlight city-suburb divisions and opportunities, with a mini tour from the “Avenue of Fashion” along Livernois in Detroit, crossing over 8 Mile at Livernois into Ferndale, then Downtown Ferndale to the 8 Mile/Woodward bridge. Afterward, the tour headed East on 8 Mile, ending up in Grosse Pointe Park to visit the farmers market barns constructed at the end of Kercheval (now since removed since the bus tour visit)

Stories of Opportunity

How can both Detroit and Ferndale reframe the shared 3 mile section of the 26 miles of the Eight Mile corridor?

A few of my thoughts from a Ferndale perspective:


  • Ferndale City council has repeatedly named strengthening connections between Ferndale and the City of Detroit in their 2012, 2013 and 2014 goals.

Livernois to 9 Mile (crossing over 8 Mile)

  • Ferndale’s desire to market its section of Livernois as a creative business corridor complements the revitalization work for Detroit’s Livernois Avenue of Fashion.
  • Buffered bike lane project/bike sharrows connecting Ferndale to Detroit with non-motorized transportation improvements
  • Ferndale’s desire to aesthetically improve the 8 Mile/Livernois intersection with more visible cross walks, traffic light arms (like the ones at Woodward/9 Mile), signage and landscaping. The goal is to link the intersection as a place of designation instead of a pass through.

8 Mile Road

  • Zoning ordinances (no strip clubs on Oakland County side, lots of strip clubs on Detroit side); signage, building setbacks, etc.
  • Neighborhood Group relationship building between The Dales Neighborhood Group and Green Acres/Palmer Woods
  • Garbutt Park improvements (many Detroit residents use this park)
  • Opportunity with South Oakland communities (Southfield, Oak Park, Ferndale, Hazel Park). These communities have strong city manager and elected official leadership who believe in cross-border opportunities.
  • Ferndale is located between  Oakland Community College in Royal Oak at 10½ mile and University of Detroit Mercy at 6 mile, two major higher-education schools.

Woodward/8 Mile Bridge

  • Big infrastructure built for cars, yet we must figure out how to increase pedestrian and cycling safety around bridge area, strengthening the connection between place and people at this historic intersection.
  • Possible Bus Rapid Transit station location near the bridge on the Detroit side (if the bridge is rebuilt to grade), connecting the Ferndale 8 mile neighborhoods with a closer walk from home to a transit station, given its proposed located at the current State Fair bus terminal.
  • Economic development to elevate the quality of development around all four corners of the intersection.

These opportunities—some currently underway (zoning changes) positively elevate the physical appearance between Detroit and Ferndale.  Safe pedestrian access needs to be at the forefront of all development decisions, not just cars.   So many residents in Detroit, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Southfield and Oak Park cross the 8 lane road of 8 mile to visit businesses and friends on each side.  It’s a game of Frogger.

Fortunately, the suburbs bordering north Detroit have a collaborative partner, the Eight Mile Boulevard Association, a non-profit focused promoting the 8 Mile Corridor and as a link to regional prosperity.  This organization tackles some difficult stuff on Ferndale and Detroit’s behalf.

Together we make good progress. Yet, the regional narrative typically leans negative versus telling the stories of positive change and opportunity along municipal borders.  I serve all of Ferndale in my council role.  I believe in regional prosperity for all communities, including Detroit to thrive.   Working together, we need to be the storytellers of positivity.

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