Charity Profile: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
Detroit has seen its share of ups and downs over the last several generations. The Motor City was long a towering Midwest figure, synonymous with automobiles and a bustling American economy. Shakier times prevailed and suddenly Detroit was on the verge of being the biggest ghost town ever. People fled, buildings went vacant and the city’s once-thriving riverfront lost its luster.
Fast-forward to today, as the city rebuilds thanks to an ever-emerging group of artists, entrepreneurs and creative organizations. Amid the rebuilding came the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which began in 2003 to not only salvage the ailing shoreline, but make it a genuine attraction. The Conservancy set its sights on several miles on either side of the river to be restored and revamped. The remarkable facelift has added green spaces and plazas while preserving historical features like lighthouses and old factory buildings.
According to Marc Pasco, Communications Director at the Conservancy, the East Riverfront is about 80 percent complete. An extension of Dequindre Cut—a popular public route known for its colorful street art—just opened and additional work this summer will add a pedestrian bridge and pathway. Across the way, the Conservancy plans to extend the West Riverfront from a half-mile to two miles. “We’re proud to be contributing significantly to Detroit’s comeback,” Pasco says. “Additionally, it’s rewarding to provide Detroiters, downtown workers and visitors with an accessible riverfront that is vibrant, safe, beautiful and programmed with many special events and other offerings.”
Thanks to partners such as General Motors and the Kresge Foundation, the Riverfront Conservancy has been able to realize its ambitious vision. Hundreds have volunteered or donated money and some have even sponsored park benches and bricks along the Riverfront. In return, the Conservancy has orchestrated educational programs like Reading & Rhythm, which invites children out for a day of reading, entertainment and a carousel ride. Another popular draw occurs at the end of June during River Days, a family-friendly weekend complete with rides, river tours, children’s theater, food and more.
Many bars/restaurants have chosen to support the Conservancy during Negroni Week festivities. Trisha Patterson of Townhouse, for instance, chose the Conservancy because of its role in the resurrection of Detroit. “The Conservancy is a constant reminder of how the rebirth of Detroit is a beautiful thing and how the people of this city are so strong,” she says. “They’ve made major strides in growing Detroit by providing multi-use outdoor areas along the river for families to enjoy.”
Bartender Shane Bang of Standby, who also heads the Detroit chapter of the USBG, appreciates the big picture. “We feel that not only is it important to lift up our cocktail scene here in Detroit but also the city as a whole,” he says. “The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is restoring our beautiful city one park at a time. They are giving us community spaces we are proud to display to all who visit.”
Aesthetics aside, the Conservancy is pushing to instill a sense of responsibility, accessibility and ownership with its shoreline efforts. In many ways, the project symbolizes the city’s resilience as well as its rebirth. The Riverfront now hosts gatherings of all kinds, from birdwatching events to concerts to 10K runs. While the Conservancy is still hard at work on segments, it is clear that the Detroit River has once again become the lifeblood of a creative, incredibly historic city.