Pop-ups, bike racks, and daffodils: Placemaking on Springwells Street

In "placemaking," a trendy word for creating environments friendly to community activities and human pursuits, sometimes the final product is less important than the acts themselves. Yes, the 6,500 tulips and daffodils planted along Springwells Street and poised for their spring arrival should make the street sing. Murals, painted last year by groups of young people from the neighborhood and with permission and input from property owners, have helped the community express its character. And a new pocket park-- nicknamed  People's Park by area residents -- gives neighbors a place to gather and enjoy the ice cream from Family Treats that they've been buying for decades.

Flowers, public art, reclaimed and reactivated abandoned lots -- all great things and all recent placemaking initiatives organized and executed by Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, a community nonprofit that focuses on the neighborhood of Springwells Village. They, along with community partners like the Southwest Detroit Business Association and the Springdale-Woodmere Block Club, have worked to accomplish some pretty effective placemaking goals.

But as Community Development Manager Tiffany Tononi talks about the different programs, what's clear is that when neighbors see each other on the street, planting tulip bulbs or clearing a trash-strewn lot, the ensuing conversations on the sidewalk are just as important as the end result. That's what makes a place, when neighbors are engaged with each other as much as they are the physical neighborhood.

Tononi says UNI has focused so much of its efforts on Springwells Street because it hasn't received the same sort of attention as the other main drag in the neighborhood, Vernor Highway. While business owners on Vernor recently celebrated new streetlights, Springwells Street businesses weren't so fortunate. The placemaking programming of the last few years has been a way for UNI to brighten up the street without the millions of dollars in fundraising it takes for something like the Vernor streetlight program.

"We want to shore up the edges while Vernor gets all the attention," says Tononi. "This business community is extremely important and the more we can support their everyday investment, the better."

It's not just beautification projects that UNI has organized. They've been gathering people into "cash mobs," where people meet at a different neighborhood bar every month, supporting local businesses and introducing each other to new people and places.

UNI is working with one of those corner bars, Revolution Lounge, to host a weekly pop-up dinner series. This May and June, Revolution will host a rotation of three chefs for a different dining experience every Sunday. Two of the three chefs, Esteban Castro of Esto's Garage at Cafe D'Mongo's and Luiz Garza of El Asador, grew up in the Springwells neighborhood.

Work on the pocket park continues, including the recent installation of four benches. Two bike racks will soon be installed on the street. UNI is also the group behind Southwest Rides, a bike shop and community space that offers education and employment programming to young people in the neighborhood.

Source: Tiffany Tononi, Community Development Manager at Urban Neighborhood Initiatives
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.