The University District's Strong Knit Community: The Detroit Agenda

June 12, 2014

By Daniel Long

"We were just drawn to this neighborhood. I think me and my wife -- we were newlyweds -- and this was our date night, to drive through this community up and down every street."

--Lucius Gunn

The streets of the University District are lush with green lawns that showcase hand-crafted homes basking in the shadow of century-old oak trees. It’s a warm spring day and residents are out working in their yards or taking leisurely late-morning strolls. Resident Lucius Gunn says he and his wife knew they were in a premiere location when they found their dream home in the district 22 years ago.

"We were just drawn to this neighborhood. I think me and my wife -- we were newlyweds -- and this was our date night, to drive through this community up and down every street."

The people here take pride in the close-knit community they've created. Residents get to know one another. They watch their neighbors’ children grow-up. They spend time together. And because of these relationships they watch out for each other.

Another reason the district remains strong is the effectiveness of the University District Community Association. The organization oversees projects in the area and provides the neighborhood with services that the city once offered.

Each block has a captain who gets the word out about upcoming events and projects coming down the pipe. The chairman of the block-captain committee is David Beaumont. He says his primary job is to get information to the individual block captains so they can involve their neighbors in making decisions.

"So, I attend the association meeting and bring back information. And, the block captains will meet two weeks later and make sure that they get it down to the neighbors, to the blocks, as they walk the blocks and talk to the neighbors, make making sure they're well informed."

Beaumont says keeping people involved and aware of what’s happening in the neighborhood creates a level of comfort that fosters a deep sense of community. He says block-captains like Lucius Gunn go out of their way to get to know people in the communitysomething that Gunn says doesn’t happen enough these days.

“I know everybody on my block and it probably hasn’t been that way since I was 10 years old. When I was 10, I knew everybody on my block, too. But, it’s a different world now, and I bet that’s not the norm. I bet the average community, you don’t know everyone on your block. I’ve heard that over and over.”

The association says the University District has the lowest crime rate of any neighborhood in the city. It points not only to the organization’s close relationship with the near-by 12th police precinct, but also to the community’s response when issues with vandalism or break-ins arise. Gunn says when there is a problem, neighbors head to the property and keep watch until police arrive. He says an officer responding to an incident recentlytold him the district has the best neighborhood security infrastructure he has seen in the city.

Even so, there are unresolved issues in the area. Residents want improvements to neighborhood schools. There are concerns about speeders careening down side streets and ignoring stop signs. And folks say they want more shopping and retail options in the area.

Steve Monsour owns a True Value Hardware store on Livernois that opened its doors last July. He says University District residents are quick to show him how much they appreciate the business.

“Matter of fact, I’ve been to a couple picnics, people invite me to their house. I’ve been around the neighborhood helping some older people that cannot come out, whether they have a problem with their sink, or a problem with their screen," he says.

Leaders in the University District say they sometimes feel their community gets over-looked. Stories are plentiful about other Detroit neighborhoods on the rebound or trendy areas popping up around the city. But Gunn says the University District is representative of what the city once was and what it could become.

“If you drive down not just my block, or not just my street – but this neighborhood, this neighborhood still looks good and you don’t see that when you see pictures of Detroit nationally, they don’t show this neighborhood.”

Gunn says he wants people to know that the sense of community residents in the University District feel is possible anywhere in Detroit as long as neighbors help one-another and work together.

Photo Credit | Daniel Long

WDET’s news team took to the streets to talk to hundreds of Detroiters about their neighborhoods – asking what they wanted for their communities – and what needs to change. Learn more about The Detroit Agenda here.