Group urges ‘reparative investment’ for razed Detroit neighborhoods

As a project to replace Interstate 375 approaches, the nonprofit Detroit Future City is calling for a reparative investment that would benefit those with ties to the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods.

In a report the organization is releasing Thursday, it says public and private funding is needed to reverse an immense loss of Black wealth, culture and community in the historic Black Bottom and Paradise Valley districts demolished with the construction of I-375 in the 1950s and ’60s.

An aerial photo of Interstate 375 and what used to be the Black Bottom neighborhood. Detroit Future City is calling for private and public funding to compensate Black residents affected by the demolition of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley to build the expressway, as well as their descendants and current neighborhood residents.

President and CEO Anika Goss said the report and the request were sparked after Detroit Future City staff visited the Rondo community in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where an African American community lost hundreds of homes and businesses with the construction of Interstate 94. That community and city recently received a $2 million federal grant for a land bridge that would restore some of the land that was lost. There are plans for an African American cultural enterprise district.

Detroit Future City wants something similar for Detroit, outlined in its report titled “A call for Reparative Investment in Black Bottom Paradise Valley.”

“Focusing on Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in a very deep, targeted way is one way where we can say we are going to use this opportunity to build Detroit in a way that we haven’t before,” Goss said. “We’re going to create economic opportunity. And we’re not just talking about affordable housing for low-income people or grants for businesses that are barely making it. That will happen also.

“But we’re also talking about enterprise. We hope to see, if you’re building a major fund, then you’re wanting to see Black wealth prosper in this place,” Goss said. “We’re wanting to see major Black developers actually develop in this place. You’re wanting to see larger Black businesses, corporations, businesses enterprise move into this place, benefit and create opportunity for other Black Detroiters in this community. Different cities have done it in different ways.”

As part of what was called urban renewal in the 1950s and ‘60s, Detroit leveled sections of the city with predominantly African American populations. Replacing those neighborhoods were I-375 and Lafayette Park; displaced were more than 130,000 people as well as drugstores, churches, restaurants, barbershops and banks.

The report said a federal initiative announced in 2022, Reconnecting Communities Program, “will remove and replace I-375 and change not just the physical landscape, but has the potential to create and spark new development and investment opportunities. There is an opportunity to leverage this moment to address the cumulative historical harms done to these communities by using a restorative process that will lead to reparative investments. These investments can contribute to moving not just this community but the city toward a more economically equitable future.”

Boulevard construction is expected to start in 2025 and be complete in 2027.

In the meantime, Detroit Future City is advocating that a major fund be developed through contributions from private and philanthropic investments, and government grants. 

“This is an investment opportunity that we’re wanting to build,” Goss said. “So then you create a financial stack of public and private funds that will have long-term investment opportunity for that community.”

The nonprofit is advocating for reparations to prioritize those displaced by the project, their descendants and Black Detroiters who currently live in Black Bottom and Paradise Valley.

Investments would also create a strategy to increase homeownership among Black Detroiter’s living in the neighborhoods and support home repair for existing residents. Black developers would be insured access to development opportunities. The report also calls for support for Black entrepreneurs and the development of a business district focused on Black-owned enterprises and the cultivation of Black entrepreneurs.

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