It takes a Village: Woodward Village thrives with families

It takes a Village: Woodward Village thrives with families
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A veritable baby boom is happening in the Woodward Village neighborhood of Detroit. Two children will be born in June and at least six tykes are under five years old. On warm days families glide up and down Lawrence Street with strollers and wagons.

“People are so friendly here, they are invested in being part of a thriving community,” says Tina Lee, a teacher at Southwestern High School who is one of the expectant mothers. The transplant from Los Angeles says she loves Detroit in all four seasons, especially her quiet block.

Woodward Village neighbors (from left) Tina Lee, Susan Jones, Chris Jones, Meagan Dunn and son Ethan II have formed close bonds and lasting friendships. Photo by Paul Engstrom

On an unseasonably warm day a group of neighbors gathered at Ethan and Meagan Dunn’s home on Lawrence to trumpet their neighborhood of late 1800 homes once occupied by the scions of Detroit, now a community of proud urban dwellers.

Woodward Village Neighborhood Association is wedged between the prestigious Boston-Edison palatial homes and the struggling Highland Park. It runs north to Webb Street, south to Glynn Court, west to the John C. Lodge Freeway and east to Woodward Avenue. It includes 500 properties, 80 percent occupied. It also includes an ice cream parlor and car wash, not to mention a vacant lot that doubles as an outdoor movie theater.

Ethan Dunn (left) strolls with Ethan Dunn II, wife Meagan, and fellow neighborhood residents Chris Jones, Susan Jones, and William Frank. Photo by Paul Engstrom

“We have 60 to 70 people working on committees to beautify, stabilize and promote our neighborhood,” says Ethan Dunn, president of the neighborhood association and proud father of a 18-month-old Ethan Dunn II.

Ethan, a partner with Maxwell Dunn PLC in Detroit, and his wife Meagan, a communications executive with Henry Ford Health System, moved to his parents’ home on Lawrence Street and await the birth of a second child. They rented their previous home to Vanessa and Sam Simkins, along with four young daughters including a set of twins.

As neighbors engage in friendly banter, leaving an afternoon brunch to saunter up and down the streets of Burlingame, Collingwood and Lawrence, they tell of current and past residents. William Frank, a realtor specializing in commercial and investment properties, points out a 1903 beaux arts beauty owned by Amy and Chris Lee, whose home starred in an episode of DIY Network’s American Rehab. Now it is the neighborhood jewel.

Realtor William Frank stands in front of his house in Woodward Village, where rehabbed homes have helped increase property values. Photo by Paul Engstrom

“Woodward Village is a new branding to introduce this little known pocket and hopefully attract buyers, because crime and taxes are both low here,” says Frank, also noting property prices are very affordable, and the neighbors divine.

Susan and Chris Jones, a couple who reunited after 13 years apart to buy a stately house on Burlingame, now organize the neighborhood beautification committee and help coordinate summer movies for families on a vacant lot. They encourage neighbors to use the Higher Ground landscape service, a team that started with Christian Development Corp. and now run an independent service by clearing out junk out of alleys and trimming yards. Others take turns mowing vacant lots and lots in untended houses, to keep up appearances.

Some of the homes in Woodward Village were bought for as little as $6,000 two years ago and are now valued at $100,000. Photo by Tim Galloway

The Jones couple point out a perfectly restored craftsman-style bungalow owned by Dwight Stackhouse, a home inspector who contributed thoughts on his neighborhood for the Detroit 67 research conducted by the Detroit Historical Society where he credited the young black, white, Asian and Arabic families moving into Woodward Village for its vitality.

“Gentrification, the final analysis, which is a tribute to the millennials, if you will, is the best hope we’ve got. Because this generation of young people remind me, in some way, of what I was like as a little boy. They don’t understand racism, it doesn’t make any sense to them.

Stackhouse, like many of his surrounding neighbors, takes particular pride in his Albert Kahn-built bungalow he purchased for $7,000 in 1993.

“Detroit is acres of diamonds that will be restored by the Lily’s, the Noah’s, the Skip’s, the people who give a damn,” he added.

“The guy across the street from me paid a hundred dollars for his house, it’s the prettiest house on the street. My brother lives a block away paid a thousand dollars. Now all those houses, all of them, are worth in access of one-hundred grand, some as much as two-hundred-and-fifty grand,” he says.

Ethan, left, and Meagan Dunn. Photo by Tim Galloway

Meagan Dunn appreciates the spike in real estate values. She hopes her family can make $100,000 in upgrades to their house, especially the kitchen. With higher resale values the investment can be justified. Services abound nearby. She buys fresh milk, eggs and kale from an urban farm across the John C. Lodge freeway from their home, and staples from Peaches and Greens, a store started by Christian Development Corporation a mile away.

A sorry looking Save-a-Lot closed recently but Woodward Village association members keep strategizing about a neat, clean, full-service grocery, a coffee shop and other services. Neighbors share their concerns – even asking to borrow a cup of sugar – on a private Facebook page. Often they are walking door to door, texting warnings of suspicious cars and employing old fashioned telephone conversations. What wisdom can the Woodward Villagers pass on to others? The best advice comes on the website, www.neighborhood-exchange.com.

“Learn how to effectively communicate, collaborate, and build coalitions,” it reads.

And members of the civic association do exactly that.

Ethan Dunn with wife Meagan and son Ethan Dunn II enjoy neighbors like Sam Simkins (right) and his wife Vanessa. Photo by Paul Engstrom

Neighbors work closely with the Detroit Land Bank to help sell difficult properties. Realtors like Frank are constantly on the look out for prospective buyers who could contribute time and optimism to this fine neighborhood that has stood the test of time for well over 100 years.

“I’m living in the house I grew up in. This is the perfect place to raise my family,” Ethan Dunn says, hugging Ethan Dunn Jr. Now if they can only slow down the speeders on Second Avenue for the sake of the children and their four-legged, furry pals.

Editor’s Note: This feature is a part of TheHUB’s Live Love Detroit series. See related posts:

 

Introducing “The Map:” TheHUB’s exclusive guide to what and where investment is happening in Detroit

TheHUB launches year-long, in-depth report on neighborhood-specific investments

Development leaders discuss the importance of protecting and investing in Detroit’s neighborhoods

It takes a Village: Woodward Village thrives with families

Ripe market and programs encourage home ownership and investing in Detroit

A ‘Happy,’ HopefulPlace: How developers transformed notorious east side apartments

Jefferson East Inc. promotes affordable housing in high-rent district

Introducing “The Glossary:” A user friendly guide to developer terms

 

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