Monday, August 12, 2013

Five cool things about Redford

So, sometimes I hate a little on my hometown for being a not totally walkable bedroom suburb with little to attract young people. BUT. I'm living at my parents' house during the month of August due to lease hullaballoo. and this throwback has led me to appreciate some of the wonderful changes, and wonderful things that have stayed the same. Ready for some Redford love? Here it comes.

1. Diversity

Map from Race and ethnicity: Detroit on Flickr, by Eric Fischer
Redford is currently one of the most diverse municipalities in the metro region, in terms of black/white. You can get this just by walking down my block, or you can look at this map by Data Driven Detroit. With extremely affordable housing stock and peaceful neighborhoods, it draws all sorts of people. Unlike some other places, where the only white people left are very old couples (we have our share of those), I've noticed quite a few young white couples and families.

Of course, there's the adage that "there are no mixed neighborhoods, only neighborhoods in transition," and it's too early to tell whether time and continued white flight will eventually leave Redford less diverse, but for now it's a strength of the community.

2. Street grids

As much as it's not walkable because there aren't many places to go and there isn't very good public transit, it's more walkable than a lot of other suburbs and if you really try, you can make it work. Being an older suburb, its neighborhoods are still laid out in the classic grid system, making it easy to take multiple routes to wherever you want to go (shout out to my homegirl, Jane Jacobs). Every house in my subdivision has a one or two block walk to a central community park. Walk four blocks from my house and there's a small business district with a grocery store, a Chinese restaurant, and an ice cream parlor. The church I went to growing up is right around the corner.

There are only a couple problems. There aren't many places of employment in the township, so everybody has to drive a half hour to somewhere else (though if you work downtown there's a very convenient express bus). And, from my perspective, there aren't many bars, coffee shops, or other places that young people like to hang out in. There is a farmers market, but it's not very well attended.

3. Gardens

The township now has two big beautiful community gardens, one on the south side and one on the north. In the works for a couple years, it finally came to fruition this summer, and I love nothing better than riding my bike over to spend quality time with my mother's tomatoes. Some of the harvest is donated to Redford Interfaith Relief, and community work days provide the opportunity to bond with fellow gardeners.

4. Community

A labyrinth for community use at a Redford church

I go running in our neighborhood park every morning, and yesterday a guy ran up behind me, said hi, and asked if he could run with me. I was a little confused but said okay, and we had a great couple miles of partner workout. He had just graduated high school and was joining the army, but he needed to lose weight to qualify. "Whoo!" he would exclaim. "I'm feelin it." And sometimes, "Man, you're a good partner. You got a good pace." When we were done we waved and went our separate ways.

I don't know where else I could go running and have this experience. There were enough people at the park that I wasn't scared by unknown men approaching me, but it's still a homey enough place that people are willing to get out of their personal bubbles and talk to their neighbors. Between this and the hellos from the senior baseball players, my runs are delightful.

5. Government

 My former employer the Michigan Suburbs Alliance does some great work on involving young people in local government, but since they don't work with townships, they may have missed the cool stuff going on in the Redfordian power structure. There are young people in the township government, one of them not much older than me, and they are making changes. One trustee graduated from Wayne State, and he doesn't have the ugly anti-Detroit sentiment that defined previous leadership.

In Ann Arbor, it's hard to get anybody in politics to take you seriously if you're not a forty year old wearing a business suit and driving a Prius. When I went to the garden work day in Redford, sunburnt, covered in dirt, and sporting a tank top, I had Trustees encouraging me to join the Jaycees and practically starting my campaign.

Redford has a lot of challenges in front of it. It's still an inner ring suburb with a dwindling tax base and struggling schools, and it needs to change in some ways to keep up with the times and the direction of the region. It also needs to be proactive about race and social class issues, which challenge the entire region. But it's got some pretty cool things going for it, and even though I've got to move back to Ann Arbor in September, I'm happier than I thought I'd be to stay at home for a little while.

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