Detroit’s Far East: The Warren Corridor is Headed For A Makeover

I got a lovely tour of the East Warren corridor yesterday from Detroit native and nonprofiteer Joe Rashid, community development man-about-town who is currently heading up the East Warren Development Corporation. I used to live just a few blocks south on Kensington. I confessed that, much though I did love the idyllic, tranquil, tree-lined streets of historic East English Village, the disastrous schedule of the Crosstown bus was a major driver in my relocation to Southwest Detroit, where I don’t have to drive very much. The proximity of Grosse Pointe’s pristine Kercheval commercial strip was, sadly, more of a destination than the East Warren strip, which has seen a great deal of storefront development in the past couple of years.

STRATEGIC NEIGHBORHOOD FUND: TARGETED PUBLIC INTERVENTION TO CATALYZE INVESTMENT

Rashid, who took me around to a couple of spots, pointing out the old, the new, and the renewed. He mentioned that the city’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund is going to drive a lot of development in coming years. While COVID has put a damper on a lot of economic activity, the funding for the SNF was locked down prior to whatever economic catastrophe we’re currently muddling through. I also enjoyed seeing a few new spots since the last time I lived there.

“How about this site? Five-story mixed-use?” I ask with a grin. We’re looking at a now-vacant Pizza Hut that was operating when I lived in the neighborhood. The Hut is abutted by two large parking lots. Three semi cabs are parked on the lot at present, which I’m sure is a big hit with the neighbors.

“Hmm, I’m thinking only three stories,” he muses. “Could be!”

Like its southern cousin of Mack Avenue, the East Warren corridor is well-defined by one- and two-story buildings. And much like the rest of Detroit, it’s a hodgepodge of 1920’s storefronts from the city’s boom years and cinder block construction from the later, autocentric 1950’s era.

Our tour also featured the diverse likes of:

  • Flamz Pizza, a (black-owned!) pizza spot, which Rashid described as similar to Mod Pizza (16369 E Warren Detroit, MI 48224).
  • Holy Moly, the fourth iteration (?) of the local donut chain, which shares a strip mall space with WingSnob, a newer, Michigan-centric franchise that boasts 13 locations in Michigan, Ohio, Edmonton, Alberta (um, what?), and Texas. As I do enjoy a wing or a donut– possibly even together, but only guiltily- I may feature these spots in a future episode of Burgerbanism (17101 E Warren Ave. A & B, Detroit, MI 48224).
  • Rob’s Deli, which Rashid claims offers the best corned beef (on the East Side, at least; 4939 Harvard Rd, Detroit, MI 48224, corner of Warren).
  • The Cadieux Stage, a film production space and venue in a squat, funny Deco building that occupies a large lot on the west side of Cadieux (4925 Cadieux Rd Detroit, MI 48224).
  • The Blue Pointe, a classic, sadly recently now-defunct restaurant that Rashid described as an East Side analogue of Joe Muer (run by a familial associate).
  • A historic worker’s cottage on one of the former ribbon farms that stretched the whole way to the Detroit River. Cadieux Rd. was named after Isadore Cadieux, an early landowner whose own home has survived along with the little house on Cadieux Rd.

So, no cats shall be let out of bags, but there are more projects coming down the pipeline– for a few buildings that are in the process of changing hands– or have recently changed ownership.

STREETSCAPING

So, too, is the streetscape in need of some updates. Prefabricated concrete planters from the 1970’s adorn a particular stretch just west of East Outer Drive. Tucked just off the street are agglomerations of diagonal parking spaces that, once upon a time, seemed like a great idea. While perhaps charming in their brutalism, they’re not too well-maintained. (We know that the city has more important things to worry about, like filing countersuits against protest groups suing the city over police brutality). Rashid suspects the planters will be removed when the streetscape is renovated. Take note, urban planners! Don’t install something unless you can afford to maintain it over many years, or it’ll just be, uh, a bucket of dirt and weeds.

There’s a separate issue Rashid mentioned, and that’s that the utilities actually underlie the sidewalk, not the street. One possible solution is to raise bike lanes as protected lanes, essentially, as has been done on Livernois on the city’s West Side. While this slows bike traffic a bit, it also leaves the rest of the street available for car traffic. Warren is, notably, not a freeway, and I have an inherent bias in my belief that traffic should flow freely but slowly in the interest of pedestrian and cyclist safety. There are even crosswalks (though we’re not quite where we should be).

Big plans are coming for the corridor, so, stay tuned! In the mean time, check out East Warren Development’s page, or stop by their Thursday farmer’s market. Onward, Detroit!

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Nat M. Zorach, AICP is a city planner, community development professional, and MBA candidate at American University's Kogod School of Business, based in Detroit.

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