The famous black orator, publisher, and political leader Marcus Garvey once said, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots."
Before I embarked on my journey as Project Editor of On the Ground Jefferson Chalmers, I had a very limited knowledge of the neighborhood. I am a Westsider through and through and, for me, Jefferson Avenue pretty much ended after Belle Isle. Still, as a lover of Detroit and its rich history, I was excited by the opportunity to learn and explore this historic neighborhood. And I was inspired by what I learned. Here are three key takeaways from my time there.
1. Stay in touch with local history
Nick Sinacori, Jefferson Chalmers historian
History is one of the greatest resources in Jefferson Chalmers. It exists not just in the buildings, but in the people. It is a living and breathing history. So it was fitting for my first interview to be with historian Nick Sinacori, who among other things shared his knowledge of the area's Fairview Village origins. The pride of this lifelong resident and his passion for the history of this neighborhood set the tone for the rest of the series.
2. Keep affordability in mind
IDAO Building in Jefferson Chalmers prior to redevelopment (Courtesy City of Detroit)
The interest of residents and other stakeholders in keeping local housing affordable was also a key focus for me during my time in Jefferson Chalmers. The proximity of the community to downtown and its abundance of multi-family housing units and apartment buildings will likely attract new residents to the neighborhood during this time of renewed investment. Yet, East Jefferson Development Corporation and Jefferson East, Inc. are focused on ensuring that new neighborhood housing is still accessible to current residents and people with lower incomes.
3. Consider the needs of current residents
The city presents its framework plan to residents of Jefferson Chalmers
Lastly, regarding the future of Jefferson Chalmers, I was happy to see how concerns about improving the lives of current community members have been reflected in the city's new neighborhood framework plan and recent development efforts. From restaurants and new shopping, to art installations and revitalized parks, new developments are starting to make day-to-day life better for all citizens in the community.
Through ten feature articles and dozens of interviews, I have been fortunate to share the stories of this neighborhood. Yet, the legacy of Jefferson Chalmers is not just in stories of the past. It is in the hope for the future.
As we wrap-up our On The Ground coverage in Jefferson Chalmers, Model D will be partnering with Manistique Community Treehouse Center and Hope Church to host a two-day community empowerment event celebrating the past, present, and future of the neighborhood. See here for details.
This article is part of our "On the Ground" series, where a journalist reports from a dedicated neighborhood for weekly coverage. Support for this series is provided by the Kresge Foundation.
All photos by Stephen Koss, unless otherwise noted.