It Takes a Village

The Villages--on Detroit's East Side, between Downtown and Grosse Pointe, close to the Detroit River--is an area defined by the water, the diversity of both housing and people, and four parks including Belle Isle and the easternmost edge of the Detroit RiverWalk at Gabriel Richard Park

The old and new neighborhoods include Indian Village and West Village, prominent historic districts that once housed Detroit's elite and still represent some of the finest architecture in the city. This is where throngs of motorists become pedestrians at the annual Indian Village Home and Garden tour in June and Garage Sale in September, and where runners pass through in droves during the Detroit International Marathon in October. And this is where you'll see the annual Gold Cup boat race, the Detroit Boat Club Regatta, Detroit Dragon Boat Festival and the Motor City Triathalon.

In recent years, development and community collaboration have expanded the identity of this active and historic area into a cluster known as "The Villages of Detroit," located south of Mack Avenue to the waterfront, between McClellan and Mt. Elliott. The Villages now include Indian Village, West Village, English Village Brownstones, East Village, Islandview Village, seven riverfront apartments, condominiums, and co-ops, and the Berry Subdivision, where Detroit's mayor lives in the Manoogian Mansion.

Neighborhood living near downtown

The Villages are part downtown, part Grosse Pointe, offering "all the benefits of neighborhood living with proximity to downtown," says James Boyle, director of Marketing for the Detroit Institute of Arts who lives in a 1904 house in West Village. He relishes the thought of living in a "cool" old house with "a yard and a dog," yet being "seconds from downtown." He's also a short distance from the Grosse Pointe shopping districts.

Villagers claim ownership of Detroit's jewel, Belle Isle, as a commons, with many families joining the Detroit Yacht Club as their community center, with its fitness facilities, restaurant, social functions, and, of course, boats. Boyle says that neighbors regularly run and bicycle to the island, enjoying its pastoral splendor. Villagers also enjoy Erma Henderson Park, featuring a small marina, fishing, and running/walking path, as well as Owen and Gabriel Richard parks for picnicking.

The area takes pride in its own leafy tradition, symbolized by the garden tour. West Village has begun plans to establish a community garden, similar to the Indian Village Community Gardens, says Bill Swanson, who lives in a late Victorian home in West Village and serves on the board of the neighborhood association. West Village, he says, is also creating a "tree farm" on a vacant lot in conjunction with Greening of Detroit. When the seedlings mature, they will be transplanted in the neighborhood.

In their quest for progressive development and continued quality of life, involved citizens of the Villages deal effectively with crime prevention through strong relations with local police as well as a private security patrols. 

The area is served by three grocery stores with various specialties, including the popular Eastern Market. Four pharmacies are also available for prescriptions and basics. Pewabic Pottery, Anna's Linens, Nubian Essence, and Pearl's Music are just some of the small shops, along with notable antique stores, found here. 

Families have started to flock to the Villages and most appear to be staying in the area, says Steve Wasko, president of The Villages Community Development Corporation. "In Indian Village, we have expanded our kids activities, whether it’s an Easter egg hunt, or a Christmas or a Halloween party," he says. Residents are now talking about installing play structures when in the past they would have been talking about gazebos and gardens.

And while Wasko would love to have a neighborhood watering hole, he looks to Sindbad's At the River, a Detroit classic, to have a few drinks and a good meal. For cappuccino and other specialty coffee drinks, there is Starbucks at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Jefferson Ave.

Good urbanism

For those looking for a local house of worship, there are several offerings. Christ Lutheran Iroquois Avenue Church in Indian Village is one example of many area churches that serve as community centers. The church houses a Cornerstone school and also provides meeting a space for community functions.

It's just one reason, along with a varied housing stock,  why Villagers stress that they are a growing sub-community within Detroit. "From $1 million mansions to affordable housing, new brownstones, old brownstones, high rise apartment towers, lofts," Swanson says, "we have any type of housing you want."

For example, Messiah Housing, a longstanding community development organization on the Near East Side, has begun building single-family homes in addition to rental townhouses. Many vacant lots have been filled with attractive, affordable houses with yards and families who enjoy the same streets and the same parks as more affluent residents in Indian Village.

Bellevue Village, the first new construction of single-family homes on the Near Eastside in 50 years, features two-story homes with brick and vinyl siding. The houses feature basements, three bedrooms, and two full bathrooms.

"East Village," a development headed by Colin Hubbell, helps fill the range in the middle with new moderately priced single family homes near West Village. East Village, according to Hubbell, is an infill urban redevelopment project intended to build vital connections to the neighboring "Villages," by incorporating contextual elements from the existing urban fabric. 

"In our long-range vision, we also hope to develop attached town homes, and possibly neighborhood-scale commercial and live/work units," according to a project description. "Our plan will balance proven principles of good urbanism with the needs of today's marketplace, and will build on the area's character, location, and recent development progress."

Hubbell says that East Village complements the long-term vision for the Eastside. "East Village will provide a lifestyle option for families who enjoy access to the waterfront, Belle Isle and downtown," he says. "As an infill development within the context of an existing neighborhood, it is intended to uplift the existing community."

"The gap is closed," says Boyle, referring to the space between East Grand Boulevard and Indian Village. "We’re not an island any more. We’re a vibrant community that has connections to downtown. The fact that downtown has developed as much as it has positively affects the quality of life in The Villages."

When to invest? Now is the time
The neighborhood offers investment opportunities for restaurants, bakeries, hardware stores, and other niche retailers looking to serve a growing community. Kercheval is a less traveled route than Jefferson, but a main street nonetheless with plenty of storefronts waiting for commercial development.

Inside Indian Village, at the intersection of Agnes and Parker streets, “is one of the most beautiful urban pictures in the city of Detroit," says Steve Wasko. The corner, which features the historic Parkstone and Parkhurst apartments, offers an ideal, intimate setting for restaurants and coffee shops.

"There are a lot of small opportunities, like the corner of Van Dyke and Jefferson," Bill Swanson says. There had been a florist, a nightclub, and small parking garage in the now vacant corner. On its far end, there's a pizza store and bait shop. All held by one owner, the space is now for sale, he says.

This is the time to invest in The Villages, Boyle says. "We see a lot of eyes going through the area. Now is the time to get in."


Manoogian Mansion

An Indian Village Home

An English Village Duplex

Erma Henderson Park and Marina


Messiah Church

An East Village Home

The Parkhurst Apartments

All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Directions to The Villages

From the North:
Take I-75 S toward DETROIT. Merge onto I-375 S / CHRYSLER FWY via EXIT 51C on the LEFT toward CIVIC CENTER. Take the exit toward JEFFERSON AVE EAST. Turn SLIGHT LEFT onto E JEFFERSON AVE / JEFFERSON AVE E to Mt. Elliott. Arrive in The Villages.

From the East:
Take I-94 W toward DETROIT. Merge onto I-75 S / CHRYSLER FWY via EXIT 216A toward TOLEDO. Merge onto I-375 S / CHRYSLER FWY via EXIT 51C on the LEFT toward CIVIC CENTER. Take the exit toward JEFFERSON AVE EAST. Turn SLIGHT LEFT onto E JEFFERSON AVE / JEFFERSON AVE E to Mt. Elliott. Arrive in The Villages.

From the South:
Take I-75 N toward DETROIT. Merge onto I-375 S / CHRYSLER FWY toward DOWNTOWN. Take the exit toward JEFFERSON AVE EAST. Turn SLIGHT LEFT onto E JEFFERSON AVE / JEFFERSON AVE E to Mt. Elliott. Arrive in The Villages.

From the West:
Take I-94 E toward DETROIT. Merge onto I-96 E / JEFFRIES FWY via EXIT 213B toward CANADA. Merge onto I-75 N via the exit on the LEFT toward FLINT. Merge onto I-375 S / CHRYSLER FWY toward DOWNTOWN. Take the exit toward JEFFERSON AVE EAST. Turn SLIGHT LEFT onto E JEFFERSON AVE / JEFFERSON AVE E to Mt. Elliott. Arrive in The Villages.

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Read more articles by Dennis Archambault.

Dennis Archambault is a Detroit-based freelance writer.