The Regulatory Landscape
At present, those wishing to pursue real estate development in Detroit, as well as those seeking to launch, operate, and maintain a small business, must navigate a complex regime of regulatory requirements. Although some of these requirements are mandated at the federal and state levels, most are overseen at the municipal level, and administered by separate City departments. These include: site plan review, zoning compliance, building safety inspections, liquor licensing, permits for awnings, permits for right of way encroachments (e.g. sidewalk cafés), and many others.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s changing landscape and irregular modes of municipal service provision have fostered a culture of self-sufficiency and inventiveness among the city’s population. Detroit’s citizens have become adept at growing produce on vacant lots, rehabilitating and repurposing disused buildings, and using the urban landscape for art projects and other forms of cultural expression.
These forms of urban creativity are a huge comparative advantage for Detroit: they garner international press, stimulate residential demand in the city’s neighborhoods, and, through their considerable multiplier effects, fuel the city’s economic recovery. They are the sorts of place-making dynamics that cannot be engineered, but must be allowed to flourish organically wherever possible. Small entrepreneurial efforts make contemporary Detroit a unique and culturally dynamic city, and represent the seeds of its revitalization. They must be carefully and intelligently nurtured.
Detroit's Commercial Corridors
In previous decades, Detroit’s neighborhood commercial corridors teemed with retail activity and street life. Small businesses offered a wide range of goods and services to nearby residents, many of whom accessed the corridors by foot, bicycle, or public transit. Older Detroiters still remember these areas with great fondness.
As Detroit’s population declined, and the region’s economic geography changed, these corridors fell into disrepair and disuse. Significant disinvestment left behind fire-damaged buildings, under-used parcels, crumbling frontages, and vacant lots. Business owners struggled to attract customers, and entrepreneurs were discouraged from starting new ventures.
In recent years, however, many small businesses have returned to the corridors. Florists, barbers, restaurants, bakeries, fitness centers, and cafés have brought new life to stretches of Gratiot, Livernois, Grand River, East Jefferson, and other neighborhood thoroughfares.
The City of Detroit is committed to supporting this trend. We recognize the vital role that the corridors will play in securing the future of Detroit’s neighborhoods, and strongly encourage the provision of medium-density, “missing middle” housing options in these areas.