On Detroit’s East Side, Managing Vacant Land Takes Collaboration

May 21, 2015

The verdure of spring is on full display in Detroit — but so, too, are the challenges of maintaining open land in a fiscally challenged city where over 30 percent of all parcels are vacant. Overgrowth and illegal dumping are not atypical features of many of the city’s 100,000-plus vacant parcels.

In no section of the city are these challenges more evident than Detroit’s lower east side, a 16-square-mile area that stretches from downtown to the city limits, bounded by the Detroit River to the south and I-94 to the north.

“This area has the largest aggregation of vacant land and the largest aggregation of city-owned land of any in the city,” Jacqueline Bejma, executive director of nonprofit developer Land, Inc., told participants of the Center for Community Progress’s Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference this week, during a tour of green reuse projects on Detroit’s east side.

Fortunately, the lower east side is one of Detroit’s most organized areas when it comes to identifying opportunities presented by vacant land. The tour introduced participants to a variety of innovative pilot programs that are transforming these liabilities into community assets, from green infrastructure installations to agricultural sites.

Bejma’s organization is an arm of the Eastside Community Network (ECN), a 30-year-old nonprofit dedicated to improving quality of life on Detroit’s east side. ECN was instrumental in the development of the Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP), a community-driven project designed to engage residents and put vacant land and property back to productive use. To date, it is one of the most comprehensive plans for any area in the city and has laid the groundwork for the implementation of a variety of green infrastructure and blight mitigation projects.

LEAP launched at roughly the same time as Detroit Future City(DFC), an extra-governmental effort that produced a long-term citywide strategic framework in 2013. Since then, DFC’s implementation office has been busy getting partner organizations like LEAP to align with the framework, which prescribes various land use typologies for different parts of the city. It designates the majority of the lower east side for “innovative productive” and “innovative ecological” uses.

On Detroit’s East Side, Managing Vacant Land Takes Collaboration
Matthew Lewis, May 21 2015, Next City