26-mile Joe Louis Greenway will connect neighborhoodsto riverfront, Dequindre Cut

26-mile Joe Louis Greenway will connect neighborhoodsto riverfront, Dequindre Cut

It was called the fight of the century but it was so much more.

Seventy nine years agothe boxing match between American and Detroiter Joe Louis and German boxing champion Max Schmeling had cultural, racial and political ramifications.

The “Fist” is a visible testament to the lasting mark heavyweight champion Joe Louis left on Detroit and, now, there is yet another. Detroit’s 26-mile recreational pathway connecting the cities neighborhoods to its international riverfront will bear his name. Photo by James Marvin Phelps/Shutterstock 

In those days many white Americans were not thrilled a black man was the heavyweight champion.When Louis beat Schmeling with a knockout in Round 12 it gave people a reason to change their views and gave black Americans hope for change in racial relations and a hero. Until his victory African-American athletes were pretty much invisible to white Americans.

In Detroit there are many tributes to Louis – The Fist in Hart Plaza and his statute in Cobo Center. Now there is a new one. The City of Detroit is naming a new 26-mile recreational pathway connecting neighborhoods across the city to its international riverfront after Louis.

“Joe Louis was a leader in every sense of the word,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. “His courage and generosity united people of all races and backgrounds. He made it clear to the world that where you start doesn’t define how far you will go. For that reason, I can’t think of a better person to whom Detroit can bestow this honor. The Joe Louis Greenway will remove boundaries and connect families and neighborhoods across our city to a tremendous riverfront that residents will enjoy together.”

The 26-mile Joe Louis Greenway will connect neighborhoods, previously separated by freeways and disjointed transit via pedestrian and bike paths, to the riverfront and the Dequindre Cut.

The new greenway and so many other transformation projects show Detroiters have found that will inside to cross boundaries and make a difference in the city and its neighborhoods.

The trail will touch Highland Park, Ferndale, Dearborn and Hamtramck and connect to trails that crisscross the entire state. In Detroit, the greenway will connect residents to small businesses and commercial corridors previously too difficult to access by foot and also connect residents to public open spaces like Palmer Park, Clark Park, and Lasky Park.

Now Detroit residents will be able to ride along 26-miles of pathways. which weave through some of its most iconic neighborhoods.

Joe Louis family members flew in from across the country to for the announcement.

“I was with my Dad in 1979 when he was honored at the opening of the Joe Louis Arena,” Louis’ daughter Candice Joseph says. “Now, nearly 40 years later through the wonderful efforts of Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council, Joe Louis will be memorialized for decades to come with this amazing project, the Joe Louis Greenway.”

George Joseph, Louis’ son-in-law says, “It’s hard to imagine today the significance that Detroit’s Brown Bomber had for the generations of our parents and grandparents. The Joe Louis Greenway will stand as a reminder of his legacy for generations to come.”

Planning for the Joe Louis Greenway will begin immediately.  A request for proposals for Framework Plan consultants will be released by January 2018.  Studies, surveys and the community engagement process with residents living near the greenway will begin that same year.

The Framework Plan will include recommendations for land use and zoning, green infrastructure, connections to public assets such as parks, wayfinding, and thoughtful intersection with local and regional multimodal transportation routes such as the Iron Belle Trail, SMART bus network, and the new Gordie Howe Bridge.  Planners will work hand in hand with residents along the entire greenway to ensure community feedback is incorporated into the design of the greenway.

The process of developing the Framework Plan, as well as the design process, will include community engagement. The project team will meet with impacted communities to get comments on proposed designs and incorporate residents’ feedback into the final construction plans.

The design process will begin in 2019, following the completion of the Framework Plan.  This process will explore ways to honor Joe Louis and his legacy throughout the greenway, including possible murals and other art installations throughout the city.

The trail has been more than 15 years in the making and many partners played a major role in making it a reality. They ranged from community leaders to nonprofits, such as the Detroit Greenways Coalition, and foundations, such as the Kresge Foundation and Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.

Earlier this year, the City of Detroit reached an agreement to purchase the largest gap in the proposed greenway from Conrail, a 7.5 mile stretch of land that ran along the historic Detroit Terminal Railroad that supplied resources and parts to assemble Ford Model T automobiles.

The city was recently awarded a $2 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. It will be used to develop comprehensive design and construction plans for the Conrail property and all remaining unconstructed segments of the Joe Louis Greenway, as well as an overarching framework plan that incorporates the half-mile corridor to either side of the greenway itself.

While fundraising continues, the City has raised approximately $10 million for the project and has applied for an $18 million Federal TIGER grant to continue construction.

The greenway is one more link in Detroit’s ongoing transformation.

One quote from Joe Louis sums up the determination Detroit, its neighborhoods and its residents display every day as they fight for the city’s comeback.

“I can show you how to box. I can show you every trick and technique I know, but I can never make you a fighter. That comes from inside and it is something no one else can ever give you.”

The new greenway and so many other transformation projects show Detroiters have found that will inside to cross boundaries and make a difference in the city and its neighborhoods.



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