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Protecting historic neighborhoods in hard economic times

One would be hard put to locate a neighborhood that has not been affected by the current economic downturn. When it hits a historic neighborhood, however, an extra level of concern plays into the scenario. Considering the years already invested in maintaining a 115-year-old neighborhood through previous downturns as well as bringing it to the level of historic designation and recognition, it is unacceptable to allow such things as plywood on windows and unkempt landscapes to happen.

Historic Indian Village in Detroit, Michigan was faced with exactly this problem. Compounding the economic decline were cases of mortgage fraud and homes left to copper and architectural elements vandals. Many foreclosed homes in the neighborhood were left in the hands of out-of-state banks that ignored demands they protect those particular homes.

This neighborhood began to immediately confront the challenges of this possible negative impact on their community. Residents rushed to begin mowing and maintaining the lawns of vacant homes. An already active volunteer security patrol (HASP, Historic Area Security Patrol) along with the paid security patrol in place regularly checked all vacant homes. Silent monitors were installed in vacant homes to catch thieves in the act. This alone resulted in numerous arrests and convictions. The dynamic VCDC (Villages of Detroit Community Development Corporation), whose territory includes Indian Village, began a vigorous campaign to market the area. This included “Living in the V” an annual one-day event that brings people into the Village to see the neighborhood and available homes. This group also began the “Lonely Homes Tour” all of which resulted in further home sales. These few measures and much more have resulted in a multitude of new residents and a nearly 70% reduction of existing vacant homes in a four year period. All of this has been so successful that other historic neighborhoods have asked for and received assistance and ideas used in Indian Village.

There will never be a time to let one’s guard down when caring for a historic community but like this time, it matters that each challenge is immediately met head on. And that requires caring residents and a strong Association. Historic Indian Village has both of these and is also populated with an amazing group of talented residents who share and volunteer their expertise along with good old-fashioned elbow grease. The current Indian Village neighbors know that they stand on the shoulders of the many who came before them. It’s why this is a nationally know historic district and why it must continue to be protected.


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