Visiting urban planners envision Ford City as next cool place

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt

Fully half of Ford City might consist of vacancy, blight and boarded-up buildings.

But planners, architects and urban designers, some of whom visited on bicycle Thursday, see loads of potential to create Windsor’s next really cool neighbourhood.

Dorian Moore, an architect and vice-president of Detroit’s ArchiveDS, said he sees parallels to Passyunk Avenue — a blighted stretch of similar length and shabbiness in Philadelphia that underwent such an impressive (and rapid) transformation, it’s now a successful and unique business strip that attracts visitors.

“When I was there in 2007, it was nothing — private investment (since then) has exploded,” Moore told a panel at Willistead Manor held in conjunction with the 24th Congress for the New Urbanism underway this week in Detroit.

“I think Ford City is its own cool thing … I can see a similar thing happening there,” he said.

What did the job in Philadelphia was the creation of the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation, a non-profit real estate development/management company that pursued a strategic plan of buying up run-down properties and starting “catalyst projects.”

The neighbourhood, for example, needed a hardware store, so PARC attracted a mom-and-pop business that catered to that need and subsidized the rent. In addition to attracting specialty and other unique businesses, the organization also began creating “clean, well-designed public spaces” where residents could hang out and interact.

Neighbourhood scale and stability were key focuses of Passyunk’s revitalization, said Moore. Delegates at Thursday’s session, which included a bike tour through Olde Walkerville and Ford City, were told by local activists that the latter is home to proud residents who care for one another and who have been sparking their own neighbourhood revitalization activities.

Ford City in Action is just one group which has been successful in luring new business, said Karlene Nielsen, community co-ordinator with Ford City Neighbourhood Renewal.

“I’d like to see Ford City come to life again, I want the perception of Drouillard Road to disappear — that is my passion,” said Ward 5 Coun. Ed Sleiman, who listened in on the panel discussion.

In contrast to Ford City, neighbouring Walkerville was presented as a shining example of new urbanism, with its focus on walkability. But Ward 4 Coun. Chris Holt, who was a member of the panel, said Olde Walkerville might be a vibrant neighbourhood and a big success story but it also has its own set of problems and challenges.

Wyandotte Avenue East, for example, is speckled with sidewalk restaurant seating, but it also remains a designated truck route through the city, an awkward combination. And Olde Walkerville’s commercial core is becoming such a popular destination that businesses already there are putting on pressure to create more parking for their customers.

Holt said it could become like “a snake eating its own tail,” with those elements that make the neighbourhood so successful being threatened. Many area homes don’t have driveways, he said, adding to the pressure on parking.

But Olde Walkerville urban success remains the envy of others.

“There’s been a lot of investment in Walkerville,” said Ford City’s Nielsen. “Isn’t it filled up and crowded? Come to Ford City,” she said.

Holt and Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin were among a number of Windsorites bouncing around to some of the many workshops and sessions at this week’s Congress for the New Urbanism.

“I’m really hoping Windsorites get exposed to these ideas,” Holt told the Star. “These are professionals and educators from around the globe who have done successful projects … I get hope from them that we can do some of this too.”