Back in late 2015, Lauren Hood was just a few months into the job as director of the Live6 Alliance
. The then-new organization was formed with the purpose of re-invigorating the neighborhoods and commercial corridors that make up the northwest Detroit district. Placemaking, business attraction and retention, residential stabilization, safety, and security are just some of that organization's key goals.
Live6 gets its name from those two main commercial thoroughfares: Livernois Avenue and McNichols Road—or 6 Mile. The four neighborhoods that meet at the intersection of Livernois and 6 Mile are the University District, Martin Park, Fitzgerald, and Bagley. It's a busy place. Fitzgerald is currently the target of a massive redevelopment effort by the city of Detroit, which will see the rehabilitation of 115 vacant homes in that neighborhood, plus the landscaping of 192 vacant lots.
When Hood was hired to lead Live6, she spent a lot of time gathering community feedback, listening to what area residents wanted to be built in their neighborhoods. It was, and still is, an important distinction for Hood that she respond to the wants and needs of the community, and not come in and prescribe outside solutions.
In talking to residents, Hood learned that the first thing people say they want is a coffee shop. They don't necessarily want fancy eight dollar drinks or latte art. They want a coffee shop because they want a place to gather, to commune with one another.
Having identified that need, Live6 is now a step closer to introducing a center for the community to build around. It's being called Treehouse, and it's not just a coffee shop; it's going to be whatever the community wants it to be. Cafe. Deli. Arcade. Performance space.
Treehouse can be anything.
"This will be something where residents can take ownership of it," Hood says. "The physical aspects aren't so much important but rather what needs it serves."
The vacant storefront on McNichols that will become Treehouse - courtesy Live6 Alliance
Unique to the Live6 district are two institutions of higher learning: Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy. Almost halfway between these two anchor institutions is a block of buildings owned by Joe Marra. It's there on 6 Mile, in a currently vacant storefront, where Treehouse will be built. A neighboring storefront is currently on track to become a brunch-style restaurant.
"Joe wants to build a cafe without the expensive coffee. He wants a place like he saw while traveling in other countries, a place where you can go and be safe without spending a ton of money," says Hood. "It serves a community need. It just needs funding."
Fortunately for those in the Live6 district, Treehouse has an opportunity to receive a significant boost in funding thanks to a national competition, the winner of which will receive $150,000 toward their project. National Trust for Historic Preservation has started a new program called Partners in Preservation, and selected the Treehouse project to represent Detroit in the #VoteYourMainStreet contest
Online voting is open now through Oct. 31, and individuals can cast their votes up to five times a day. Whoever receives the most votes takes home the $150,000 grand prize.
In both economically and culturally re-invigorating the Live6 neighborhoods and corridors, Hood and her organization are faced with an apparent paradox. How does one find that sweet spot between eliminating blight without triggering gentrification?
It's something that's been on Hood's mind from the start.
"You need to be inclusive and be mindful when you are working on new developments that things stay at certain price points—mindful of the kind of developers you're working with and the kind of plans that get put in place so that things can stay attainable for people," Hood told Model D in 2015.
"It's tricky. There are some models out there, but I feel like it's got to be unique to this place. There are some things in the works—we'll see. I would like [Live6] to be a model to show how to do it in other places, to show that engaging a community early with an organization like this can warrant longer-lasting results than the way people have been doing it."
A component of that model could be Treehouse. Build a deli counter. Install old arcade games. Build a coffee stand. Install stage and sound equipment. Like Hood says, it's not necessarily the physical aspects of the space that matter. Get the programming right, and the community will respond. Youth programming. Arts programming. Performance programming. Treehouse can become a place where people can actively be part of their community.
"With new developments, sometimes people worry about how they'll be perceived in those spaces," Hood says. "This is something that people already living in the neighborhood will find valuable."
Click here to vote Detroit in the Partners in Preservation #VoteYourMainStreet contest. And check out this video on the initiative produced by the Live6 Alliance.
Live6 Detroit #TreehouseLive6 #VoteYourMainStreet from Live6Detroit on Vimeo.