What’s happening to I-375 and what does “Reconnecting Communities” have to do with Black Bottom?

January 15, 2024

What’s happening to I-375 and what does “Reconnecting Communities” have to do with Black Bottom?

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and City of Detroit in 2023 announced an investment from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration grant of $105 million as part of the federal government’s Reconnecting Communities project.  The project purpose is to restore connections between neighborhoods targeted by the federal government and developers over 60 years ago that built interstate highways and dismantled Black communities. Discussions have been held by MDOT for over ten (10) years, though recent media attention to the project has increased public awareness and  concerns about the I-375 conversion project from interstate highway to a multi-lane boulevard.

The federal government targeted and dismantled communities that were majority Black high density areas with commercial districts that fulfilled the social, cultural, and economic needs of Black residents –for the purpose of removing Black residents under the guise of “urban renewal” or what is known today as redevelopment and gentrification. The harm was the forced removal of residents and uprooting small Black owned businesses using “slum clearance” as justification. Locally, Detroit’s Black Bottom (Gratiot Ave, Dequindre Cut, Detroit River, and Beaubien to the north, east, south, and west respectively) and Paradise Valley (currently the site of Ford Field, Comerica Park and adjacent areas) were dismantled and replaced by I-375.

Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were thriving communities in Detroit before they were demolished in 1946 for the construction of the I-375 interstate spur. In its heyday, the communities had over 350 Black businesses. And according to the 1940 census, about thousands of Black Detroiters resided in Black Bottom and Paradise Valley areas. The Great Migration of Black Americans from the South, following the promise of better housing and high-paying jobs led to the growth of Black Bottom. This resulted in a vibrant corridor along Hastings St. filled with bars, hotels, record stores, social clubs, and churches exemplifying the robust culture of the Black community in Detroit. Many musical artists prior to the founding of Motown were historically rooted in Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods, contributing to the rich and internationally acclaimed musical heritage – attracting jazz, Blues, and Big Band performers such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is now leading the project that will require over $300 million more in funding: $30 million for engineering and $270 million for rebuilding the I-375 freeway spur into a street-level boulevard. In other words, converting I-375 into a multi-lane boulevard, that will include bike lanes, intersections that will reconnect downtown to the current Lafayette Park communities, freeing up about 31 acres of land for redevelopment. The freeway has reached the end of its utility, because typically around 50-60 years, freeways must be redone. MDOT cited the expense of having to repair the freeway bridges thereby opting for a street level boulevard. I-375 has increasingly become inaccessible due to the impacts of environmental changes such as heavy rainstorms related flooding and auto pollution.

Many residents, corporate interest groups, neighborhood organizations, and nearby businesses such as Greektown Casino in the targeted areas have participated in meetings held by the MDOT Local Advisory Committee (LAC). This advisory is selected by the City of Detroit Planning Commission.  Many Black-led organizations, cultural institutions, and disability justice organizations, along with transit riders will be impacted. These critical stakeholder that should have been invited to provide important input and feedback on the project including the Community Enhancements Plan – were not included in the meetings.

At this point the plans fail to address the historical harms and impacts and do not focus on reparations and restorative justice for families that lost their homes and businesses during the construction of I-375. Detroit People’s Platform has participated in the LAC meetings for the purpose of monitoring the project and  raising concerns regarding the impact the construction will have on several DDOT bus routes impacting up to 110,000 rides per day, based on data from Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT).

DPP’s Transit Justice Team will continue to raise concerns related to the impact this project will have on east-bound essential bus riders commuting throughout the city and accessing downtown Detroit. We have raised issues related to pedestrian safety and disability access, given there are many elders that reside in and around project area. DPP is calling for more residents, especially essential bus riders and residents in the impact area to participate in meetings and hearings to learn about the project. Impacted residents can have a powerful voice ensuring the proposed boulevard is safe, slows down traffic, and most importantly does not contribute to more pedestrian related accidents.  It is critical that residents attend the future set of meetings and raise concerns as well for racial justice priorities including land use and post construction economic development plans. The City of Detroit Planning Department will begin to host these planning meetings later this year.

Black Bottom Citations

  1. https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/news/press-releases/2022/09/15/whitmer-sec-buttigieg-and-local-leaders-celebrate-historic-i-375-project , State of Michigan – Governor Whitmer’s Office online page, 2023
  2. https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/paradise-valley, Detroit Historical Society, website, Encyclopedia of Detroit
  3. https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2022/09/15/federal-grant-funds-one-third-375-replacement-project-detroit/10387517002/ Detroit News, September 15, 2022, website, “Federal grant funds a third of I-375 replacement project”
  4. https://www.bridgedetroit.com/mdot-i-375-project-detroit/, Bridge Detroit – MDOT – I-375 Project