New Far East Side was an ambitious property development project intended to revitalize several blighted neighborhoods on Detroit’s east side.
In the 1940’s and early 50’s the east side was according to Thomas Sugrue “the epicenter of the auto industry,” with 23 major manufacturing plants. “Between 1953 and 1960,” however, “the area lost 10 plants and 71,137 jobs” and “had become an economic slum in the course of a decade.” Today fewer than 4,000 people live there, down from 24,000 at its peak in the 50’s.
The area was chosen for several reasons: to the east is Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit that is relatively affluent, with stable neighborhoods that have high property values. Two of the bordering streets, Jefferson and Warren, are high-traffic and well developed.
Planning began in the early 2000’s by Archive Design Studio. The site chosen covered 1,200 acres bordered by Conner, Warren, Alter, and Jefferson avenues. 68.5% of the lots in this area were vacant; the overall quality of the remaining housing was rated as “poor.”
The New Far East Side project would be completed in phases, with a projected cost of $258M dollars. Houses would be arranged in neighborhoods centered around parks or other landmarks. The plan called for commercial areas, including big box retailers. The total project would consist of about 3,000 houses with an average cost of $180,000 to $250,000. Six different models of two story homes were designed, five being traditional brick and one being an “urban modern” design. The first phase, known as Fox Creek, would consist of 650 homes across eight blocks, with construction starting in 2008.
As part of site preparation, the city of Detroit spent at least $4 million dollars purchasing property, razing homes, and rebuilding streets, sidewalks, and installing streetlights.
That was as far as the project ever got.
A global economic downturn and the collapse of the US housing market effectively ended the project before it began. One of the developers went bankrupt, and a key person working on the project passed away.
Today the east side area is one of the most deserted stretches of land in the city. Mixed in with the few occupied houses are dozens of vacant homes and apartment buildings. New sidewalks and streetlights snake through vacant neighborhoods, occasionally dead-ending at an intersection. The last school in the neighborhood, Carstens Elementary, closed last year, as did the beautiful Montieth branch Detroit Public Library. While development has halted, the city is keen on reviving the plan or a variant of. The east side is an important part of the city desperate for urban renewal, and with much of the property purchased and cleared, it is hoped that new financers will step up to support the plan. In the meantime, the trash continues to collect in empty lots.