19 July 2010

Home, Garden Oases in Detroit

The Detroit Free Press

Tom Blaser has lived in his North Rosedale Park home since October 1960. He has seen Detroit's political- and private-sector luminaries come and go from the prominent west-side neighborhood.

But he was surprised to see Mayor Dave Bing, named honorary chairman of the North Rosedale Park Home and Garden Tour, in his backyard Saturday afternoon.

"This is the first one," he said about hosting a mayor.

As Detroit neighborhoods struggle against foreclosures, blight and crime, many, like North Rosedale, East English Village, University District and Boston-Edison, are promoting their neighborhoods this summer with home and garden tours and other events to attract new residents and retain existing ones.

Most important, North Rosedale residents and city officials say these events have a significant impact on neighborhood stabilization efforts that could serve as a model throughout the city.

More than 125 people preregistered to attend the tour and luncheon -- a fund-raiser for the North Rosedale Park Civic Association -- at $15 per ticket, said Meredith Drain, co-chair of the North Rosedale Park Garden Committee. The group advertised the event in newspapers and on the radio.

Drain, who has lived in the neighborhood 34 years with her husband, Wayne County Circuit Judge Gershwin Drain, said the event shows "that we're still a very vibrant, wonderful neighborhood."

The community boasts the city's only privately owned community center and park, paid for and maintained by association fees, a community garden and a theater group. There is a committee that monitors boarding up homes and a private security patrol.

"It definitely builds a sense of community," said Councilman James Tate, who has lived in the neighborhood four years and grew up in neighboring Rosedale Park. "We are doing things that the city could never do for us."

Marilyn and John Porth have lived on Scarsdale for 22 years. Their lush garden with two ponds was a tour stop.

Noting that as many as nine vacant homes once lined their street, John Porth said, "Every community has empty houses. ... It becomes a cancer." But he has seen an improvement.

"We recycle," he said about the city's pilot recycling program. "I feel suburban."

Steve Ogden, director of the nonprofit Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative, said there are 650 vacancies in the 1,800-home neighborhood.

To stabilize neighborhoods, the city must gain control over vacancy, he said. The plan is to use federal stimulus money appropriated to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to acquire targeted vacant houses, placing them in the Detroit Land Bank until the market can sustain their sales, perfom home rennovation on some and spot-demolish others.

From the featured garden at Gloria Robinson-McKiney's home on Westmoreland to Marsha Bruhn's sunken garden on Shaftsbury to Edith and Ron Colston's tropical-theme garden on Gainsborough, Bing was equally impressed with each home and the neighborhood involvement.

"We can't forget these people," Bing said. "This is the fabric of the city."

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