Before the GAP and Starbucks, New York’s West Village was a bohemian center, filled with artists, musicians and writers who wiled away the hours in eclectic coffee houses and corner bars. Although undoubtedly smaller, Detroit’s West Village has a similar vibe.
Located three miles east of downtown, adjacent to Indian Village, West Village is a national historic district featuring a unique mix of single and two-family homes built between 1890 and 1920. I moved here seven years ago, attracted by its close proximity to downtown and the waterfront, its eclectic mix of people and, of course, awesome affordable housing. While Indian Village mansions were beyond my pocketbook, West Village was an excellent alternative, offering smaller, but still architecturally impressive homes. And while not without its urban problems, this unique community is getting hipper by the moment, becoming a desirable destination for area artists, musicians and other self-professed city lovers.
“I moved here just over a year ago mainly because I could get a lot of house for my money,” says Nick Cucinella, 27, major account executive for dot-com giant Careerbuilder.com. Nick looked all over metro Detroit—Ferndale, Royal Oak and Birmingham—before settling on Detroit’s West Village. “But then I met some of the neighbors, and it sealed the deal. People here are, for the most part, interesting and culturally aware. It’s a cool group.”
Nick is part of the cool. In his spare time, he plays the trombone for, and tours with, Motown legends the Temptations. And he’s just one of numerous creative dwellers. On my tiny block alone there are three musicians, two writers (counting me), a producer, an art promoter, filmmaker, restaurateur and former DJ, who just started a radio station out of his basement.
West Village is also attracting hipsters from abroad. After watching the film 8 Mile, Marie Wallace became so intrigued with our city that she up and left Paris and moved to Detroit (really!). After spending some time hotel hopping along lower East Jefferson, Marie settled into West Village and has just purchased a home here. “West Village has a very creative appeal,” says Wallace. “It’s beautiful with tree-lined streets and elegant homes. The people here are also laid-back and cool—and very welcoming. Everyone was so helpful when I came here. This is like a small town where everyone knows each other and cares for each other. It’s really unique.”
What’s also unique about West Village is that it is a mix of residential and rental properties, making it home to a diverse group of people, including an increasing number of students from Wayne State University and the College for Creative Studies. Pop into local coffee house The Village at 1417 Van Dyke, and you’ll see your fair share of sideburns, shaggy hair and vintage Ts. “In the last year, my business has increased tremendously,” says Village owner Nurah Stanley. “Most of my customers are musicians, fashion designers, poets and students who live in the area. They are very diverse in culture with a strong appreciation for each other. It’s a great group.”
For me, this influx of youngsters is attractive. As someone closer to 40 than 20, I like regularly interacting with younger minds. It keeps me up on new artists and musicians, not to mention other cultural trends. It also provides me with a lengthy roster of hip babysitters, people who do things with my kids like taking them to “Fridays at the DIA” to see techno artist Kevin Saunderson. You probably don’t get that in Shelby Township.
Keepin' the WV on the DL
It’s a Friday night, and my neighbor Muffy Kroha’s birthday party is overflowing with the who’s who of Detroit’s music scene. Muffy is senior visual manager for Neiman Marcus at the Somerset Collection, as well as lead singer for the glam rock band the Sirens. Needless to say, she has arguably the coolest home this side of the Atlantic, featuring a Who-themed bedroom, seashell-covered bathroom and a basement-turned-leopard lounge, complete with bar and dance floor. Hanging out in this later locale, I’m chatting with two filmmakers in town from LA. Neither one could believe they were in Detroit. “This is a really cool little neighborhood—a great scene. I grew up in the suburbs here and never knew this place existed!”
This is the kind of comment some West Villagers like and don’t like. We like our neighborhood small and tight-knit. But we also know we could benefit from new businesses and development, and some of us (like me) are hopeful this kind of activity is right around the corner.
Dare I say the “G” word?
Given its location, West Village is actually well positioned for development. Nearby, construction is already underway on Detroit’s 31-acre Tricentennial State Park. The park includes a promenade that will ultimately stretch from Gabriel Richard Park near the MacArthrur (Belle Isle) Bridge to the Ambassador Bridge. This means, within the next year I’ll be able to step out my door and within minutes jog, bicycle or enjoy other recreational activities on approximately 30 acres of parkland alongside the Detroit River. I can even pop into a Starbucks (on East Jefferson and East Grand Blvd.) along the way—now that’s city living!
A few blocks north of here, Messiah Housing Corporation is working on nearly a half-dozen infill developments, creating attractive, affordable housing for low-to-moderate income individuals and families. A few blocks east, the Jefferson Avenue Housing Development Corporation, in conjunction with East Village, LLC, is in the middle of a comprehensive rehabilitation project that involves the construction of approximately 250 new houses and the rehabilitation of nearly 75 more. Add this to the already established Indian Village neighborhood, and the numerous recently refurbished condominiums on the riverfront, and some people might begin to the throw the “g” word around (gentrification). While that’s premature or not, development in and around West Village is definitely underway, and I for one am glad of it.
A Neighborhood on the Rise
In New York’s West Village, real estate developers eventually followed the artists, drawn by the increasing appeal of the neighborhood, not to mention property values. Wise investors may look to West Village for similar happenings. Like the rest of Detroit, West Village home values have increased at a greater rate than homes in surrounding suburbs. Even still, today you can get a lot of great home for your money here. And with it, you’ll be surrounded by a growing group of culturally aware, community-focused neighbors that increasingly make life in West Village an exciting bohemian adventure.
West Village Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger