This is Detroit’s moment to get I-375 replacement right. Let’s not lose it.

Detroit finds itself at a crossroads.

Once again.

As the conversion of I-375 to a boulevard sparks new investment and development activity in historic Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, now is a critical time to embrace a restorative model of investment that centers community, repairs past harm and advances economic equity. Other communities have undertaken this work, and are moving closer to meaningful solutions. 

Anika Goss, executive director of Detroit Future City

But three years after a summer of “racial awakening,” marching, protesting, pledges and promises, Detroiters are still waiting for the moment that feels restorative. Last fall, Detroit Future City’s leadership team and several board members visited Minneapolis-St. Paul. Ground Zero for the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent response from government, civic and community leaders. It was there we learned about St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood, a thriving black community in the 1950s, until it was destroyed by that state’s portion of the I-94 freeway under the guise of urban renewal.  

The story of the Rondo neighborhood may feel familiar. It is.

A historic marker for Detroit's Paradise Valley is seen near the Ford Field parking lot in Detroit on March 19, 2021, where the historic area that was once Detroit's African American business and entertainment district stood before being destroyed by the development of I 375 in Detroit.

Hundreds of communities across the country were intentionally destabilized to build new freeways and housing, thereby controlling and removing Black Americans from their established communities. Detroit was no different. At the time, Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were majority Black neighborhoods that held cultural significance to the Black community. In the mid-1940s, with new federal legislation and the rise of urban renewal — a land redevelopment program that started in the 1950 and ended in the 1970s in which federal funding was used to replace areas of aging infrastructure and housing with new public housing projects and highways — the future of these neighborhoods took a turn. City government called for much of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley to be demolished to make way for public and private housing, and I-375. Black families and businesses were forced to move to other parts of redlined Detroit, with little support, to reestablish housing and business ownership.   

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I-375 replacement project in Detroit moves closer to reality, gets OK from feds

But there’s a major difference between Rondo in St. Paul and Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in Detroit. The Rondo community started to explore restorative investment strategies long before the racial reckoning that followed George Floyd’s murder. Restorative investment means acknowledging the negative impact of urban renewal and other discriminatory policies, then actively designing reparative programs and investments that center current and former residents impacted by these policies. These efforts have only gained momentum, with reparative response from the government. The St. Paul community stood up an organization called Reconnect Rondo, leading the effort to develop an African American cultural enterprise district connected by a community “land bridge” that would place a lid over I-94 and physically reconnect the community — with a mission to repair, restore and revitalize Rondo to help reverse racial disparity gaps.  

The Michigan Department of Transportation is exploring whether to rebuild or find a new use for the mile-long I-375 freeway that runs along Detroit's Eastside, seen here on June 5, 2014. The DOT says the property is at the end of its useful life and is looking into options for a new use of the corridor. Jarrad Henderson/ Detroit Free Press

In 2026, a new boulevard will replace Detroit’s I-375, the original freeway that tore through Black Bottom and led the way for the I-75 project in adjacent Paradise Valley. The plans for the roadway project are early and vague at best. Words like “reconnecting,” “restorative” and “reparative” are used to encourage and excite residents about the new road project.  

More:Demolition of I-375 can never erase the sins of the past | Opinion

As with any major infrastructure project, there is a lot of money on the table. There is land to be bought and sold in this neighborhood, which will likely change the structure of the community once again. There are jobs to be gained and contracts to be procured as a result of this project. The project itself will result in new development opportunities and new business investment. Road development will have significant environmental impact, and many other financial implications affecting this same community.  

Once again, Detroit, we are standing at the crossroad. Are we standing in silence, or are we asking for what we deserve — reparative investment, accountability and acknowledgement of the significant historical impact of a road project in the same community that was previously destroyed by government officials by a road project decades before. Detroiters should demand that community voices are centered in all decisions about the I-375 project, and that genuine restorative and reparative solutions regarding the physical roadway, the available land and future economic development efforts are the ultimate outcomes of this investment. 

This is our moment, Detroit. Let’s not lose it. 

Anika Goss is CEO of Detroit Future City.

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