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Taking a Walk Through Detroit

Okay, I'm lame. There. I've said it. And beyond the obvious reasons, it's most because it took me this long to finally visit the Dequindre Cut.

My peeps and I recently took a stroll through this fabulous green space. It's one part pathway, one part tranquility within one of the most confused and chaotic cities I know. That is why it is a must for any suburban or city resident: The Dequindre Cut is a walk on the calm side.

It's a greenway, much like the walking paths I discovered thanks to the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan a few months back. When completed, the Cut is going to unite Detroit in a way that few people or organizations previous did. My prediction – it will someday win us some fabulous award just like Campus Martius has for innovative outdoor spaces in an urban setting.

These kinds of projects show what you can do with Detroit if you've got vision. And, baby, the future's so bright…

This beauty opened in May 2009. It is formerly a Grand Trunk Western Railroad line on the city's East side. Hence it is located below street level, giving it that peaceful, serene air. I hate to compare anything in Detroit to Chicago, but here goes. It felt similar to that lovely green stretch along Lakeshore in Chicago, where everyone strolls, jogs and bikes to distraction. It's what “real” cities need.

The greenway, which is about 20 feet wide and just over a mile long, officially runs from Gratiot to Woodbridge Street between Jefferson Avenue and the Detroit River, according to Wikipedia. There are plans to extend the Cut north to Mack Avenue (think Eastern Market – getting your weekly fruit and groceries and then pedaling back home!) and south to the riverfront. It has room for bikes and pedestrians. There are lights, benches and green grass all along the path.

Everybody around this project loves the thing. And did I mention the graffiti? This is what embracing Detroit looks like. Leaving this artwork here – and encouraging others to join it – is what gives the Cut and future outdoor projects like this the flavor, fabulosity and festiveness befitting the Motor City. The best column on the art-gallery feel of the Cut comes from photographer Donna Terek over at The Detroit News; read it here.

It's got some great development/economic possibilities as well, notes my tour host, Tom Woiwode, director of the GreenWays Initiative. Along with the Midtown greenway, these paths are more than glorified walkways. They are true links that bring every part of Metropolitan Detroit together.

And there will be growth around them. Here's what the Detroit Eastern Market web site notes:

The Greenway presents a unique opportunity to encourage reinvestment in adjacent properties by re-activating an abandoned rail corridor as a recreational amenity that links the downtown area and the Detroit River, with its parks and RiverWalk, to the Eastern Market District, the University Cultural Center Area, the Midtown Loop, and a number of residential neighborhoods.

A little background on the GreenWays Initiative. It is a program of the before mentioned Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Over the past 8 years, the organization has helped fund the creation of more than 70 miles of greenways (or non-motorized pathways) throughout the local seven-county region. Trails include the Dequindre Cut, the second phase of the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor and RiverWalk in Detroit; Macomb Orchard Trail in Macomb County and the Clinton River Trail and Polly Ann Trail in Oakland County. Many were once old abandoned railway corridors, brownfields or neglected pieces of nature. Now, they are a great way for children to get to school, for people to use for free exercise year-round and give locals and visitors the opportunity to really admire their local surroundings and nature.

Ah, nature. Thank you, people who believe in Detroit. It took a lot of money, a lot of planning and some struggle. But preserving what remaining assets we have…priceless.

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