The Craig Fahle Show

A Detroit community says their neighborhood name is being changed, against their wishes

March 12, 2013

Does it matter if residents feel a sense of neighborhood identity? Experts say that being connected to your neighborhood has a strong relationship to how secure individuals feel about their place in the world. Residents of one Detroit neighborhood say their community identity is being changed… against their wishes.

WDET’s Martina Guzman reports on how the unofficial renaming of the Hubbard Richard neighborhood is raising concerns.

Detroit’s Hubbard-Richard neighborhood is surrounded by Mexicantown, Downtown and Corktown. Amelia Duran lives and works there. She says she loves the name of her neighborhood.

"I think that there’s a lot of reasons why names are important to a neighborhood… like identity and culture."

The neighborhood was named after Father Gabriel Richard many decades ago…and is anchored by the historic St. Anne’s church. But as of late…Hubbard-Richard is being called something different… Corktown Shores.

“someone from out of town was asking us what neighborhood we were in and we were explain well it’s kind of Corktown, it’s kind of Hubbard farms, it’s kind of southwest, kind of west industrial, and the person was familiar with Corktown I think and they said something like “what about Corktown shores”...and people thought it was funny and so when people started asking where we were, we said Corktown shores”

That’s Jacques Driscoll the owner of Green Dot Stables…a restaurant that re-opened last spring after years of being closed. Driscol says the name Corktown Shores caught on with his customers. T-Shirts were designed and now sell for 20 dollars at his restaurant.

Duran says…

“to say oh it was just a joke but then to go back a month later and you still have t-shirts for sale that still have that slogan on them, it passes from being a joke to being a clear “I don’t care what you think and I don’t care how you feel even though this is your community.”

The t-shirts are what convinced Duran that it was not an accident, and that calling Hubbard Richard Cork Town Shores is an attempt to re brand her neighborhood into something trendy.

“Corktown is seen as this hipster hub spot where it’s cool to come in and invest money and have all these different establishments coming up… but those establishments aren't really welcoming to the community that already exists there… so it’s isolating them.”

Changing the names of neighborhoods isn't new in Detroit. One of the latest examples is Midtown. For decades the area was known as the Cass Corridor. Sue Mosey…is the director of the Midtown Detroit Inc. She was behind the move to rename the area.

“In about 2000… we sort of ran up against the issue of a name that really represented all the sub- district neighborhoods… we had Brush Park, we had art center neighborhood, we had Wayne State, the Detroit Medical Center…and we struggled with trying to come up with one name that everyone could fall under that would then give us a lot more punch."

The Midtown brand has been successful. According to the Midtown Detroit web-site there’s been more than 2 billion dollars in investment and housing occupancy has risen to about 95 percent. Changing the name of a neighborhood is a tool that’s been used by real-estate developers for decades. In some cases… altering a name can give the community an opportunity to do away with a tarnished image. Take L.A…In 2003 Los Angeles re-named South Central Los Angeles to the less stigmatized South Los Angeles. Duran says… her Hubbard… Richard neighborhood isn't stigmatized and doesn't need a new image.

"I’m opposed to changing the name of the Hubbard Richard neighborhood because I feel like it affects the identity of the community that already exists here. There are a lot of roots that have been here for a long time, this community is very diverse."

Scott Martin is an urban planner and the former Executive Director of the Greater Corktown Development Corporation. He says there is a right way and a wrong way to change the name of an existing community. Martin helped re name the neighborhood called Briggs which sits near the intersection of I–75 Freeway and the Lodge…to what is now solidly known as North Corktown.

“in our effort to redevelop the area we went to the community and said what do you think about realigning yourself with what is a more successful neighborhood and what has become a more popular destination in the city and everyone in that neighborhood up there was very excited about it so we were able to go forward."

Detroit is going through massive restructuring. Some consider changing the names of certain neighborhoods as just a part of the reorganization. But Martin says community engagement is essential when making these decisions.

“If people are looking at a map and playing monopoly and just naming neighborhoods that seems to me not the right thing to do, so but who gets to decide is a very good question, it’s a very, very good question… and in my opinion it should be people who live there.”

Amelia Duran says some people are taking the issue lightly because they view it as a move the re branding bring in positive investment and an influx of people.

“I’m not saying that I don’t want to see people come into these communities but I want to see those people come in and be respectful of the communities that are already here”

With hundreds of people investing in the city’s future… how will businesses and communities come together and agree on Detroit’s reinvention?

I’m Martina Guzman WDET News