Adapting the Strategic Neighborhood Fund to Meet Community Needs

November 29th, 2021

Vice President of Neighborhoods Mike Smith at Invest Detroit discusses some exciting new initiatives in the Warrendale Cody Rouge neighborhood and how the Strategic Neighborhood Fund must stay nimble and adaptive to meet the needs of specific communities.


The Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) is now five years old, and its model of neighborhood investment has matured into a suite of tools that includes commercial corridor revitalization, catalytic park investment, streetscape improvements, and housing stabilization. Each of these aims are shaped ahead of time by a year-long neighborhood framework plan to ensure the work to be implemented has been identified in partnership with the residents of each SNF geography. Yet even now, we continue to iterate, adapt, and respond to the unique needs of each neighborhood.

In the Warrendale Cody Rouge planning area, we’re launching two new grant programs with local partners: a facade improvement program and an art mural program. Catalytic real estate reactivation or development are two traditional approaches to commercial corridor revitalization implemented in other corridors through SNF. However, these solutions require land availability and significant capital investment. On corridors with no available catalytic property, we are exploring grant programs to support and enhance the historic and intrinsic strengths of the existing business corridor and surrounding neighborhoods. Strategic grants can foster vibrant and safe places for residents and visitors to walk, eat, shop, and gather. We align these values with the vision residents have already identified for their communities in the neighborhood framework plans to identify grant opportunities like facade improvements and art murals. Matt Williams, a planner in Detroit’s Planning & Development Department, sums it up well, “Working closely with the community, in particular the nonprofit organizations and block clubs in Warrendale Cody Rouge who formed this project’s steering committee, has given us a non-traditional way to have a high impact on the commercial revitalization of W. Warren Ave.”

The facade improvement program is being led by the Islamic Center of Detroit (ICD), who has long been an active business and community service partner in the surrounding neighborhoods. The program has several unique features, such as not requiring matching dollars from the building owner nor requiring the building owner to pay for the improvements up-front before they’re reimbursed. We anticipate 10 to 13 facades can be improved through this program, which will allow building owners to address much-needed deferred maintenance, attract new businesses to the corridor, and improve the visual appeal and walkability for visitors.

The Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance (CRCAA) is leading the art mural program. CRCAA is especially well-positioned for this program, having worked for years with neighborhood youth, including the youth council that was an innovative partner of Warrendale Cody Rouge’s neighborhood framework plan. The art murals again tap into the incredible talents of the area’s youth and will pay 15 young Detroiters a stipend for a 3-month residency to help guide the art murals from community engagement to framing a vision for the muralists to follow to painting the murals themselves. CRCAA has also engaged a local artist as a consultant throughout the process, and he will paint one of the eight murals this program will create along the corridor.

The creation of these two new programs is made possible by the support of our generous SNF funders, especially Huntington Bank, our partner in the Warrendale Cody Rouge neighborhood. Additionally, each program is supported and advised by many partners from various City agencies such as the City Walls program, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, and others to help ensure its success and share best practices. Both programs are being focused along the same stretch of W. Warren that is being targeted for a streetscape improvement in 2022. We are incredibly excited about both of them and most importantly, both are being managed by local community development organizations who were lead stakeholders in the area’s neighborhood framework plan.

These projects align well with the mission of SNF, which we launched with the City of Detroit in 2016 to bring coordinated investment back to Detroit neighborhoods after more than six decades of disinvestment. Since then, we’ve quickly iterated on the model to improve how we work in and with 10 neighborhood geographies around Detroit.

Every one of the 10 SNF geographies is unique in its culture, physical environment, history, opportunities, and challenges, and the investments made through SNF are tailored to best respond to each particular neighborhood. As SNF continues to improve and evolve, we anticipate there will be more opportunities like facades and art murals in SNF neighborhoods in the future. As we collectively progress in the work, we’re constantly discovering ways to invest more deeply and meaningfully in Detroit neighborhoods that address each neighborhood’s unique needs and respond directly to resident requests. As Williams eloquently puts it, “Creative planning with a diverse community is a challenging process. But as a city we’ve learned how to become more agile in how we approach complex issues when it comes to revitalization. Our young people are more involved with their government, and our local organizations have increased their capacity to address the needs of their communities. That’s growth. That’s the result of working together. I’m encouraged to see what impact we can continue to have in all the neighborhoods across our great city.”