On October 31, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan, Mayor Mike Duggan joined with city and state officials and a large crowd of excited residents to celebrate the completion of the Warren Gateway stretch of the Joe Louis Greenway (JLG).
As documented in the 2020 book, RECONOMICS: The Path To Resilient Prosperity, too many communities stop after repurposing and renewing their built and natural assets, forgetting the reconnecting them is often the crucial third step needed to fully revitalize them.
Greenways are a great way to accomplish this, especially when they are based on repurposing and renewing old railways, as was this one in Detroit.
“This is a great day for Detroit,” said Mayor Duggan. “What used to be an abandoned railroad tracks, overgrowth and tons of illegal dumping is now going to be a signature entry point to the Joe Louis Greenway for thousands of people each year. The world-class quality our General Services Department, the Joe Louis Greenway Partnership and partners like the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is creating in Joe Louis’ name surely would make him proud.”
The $6 million Warren Gateway segment is the first constructed trailhead on the Joe Louis Greenway, on the border of Detroit and Dearborn.
It consists of a 4-acre park that sits west of Central Ave, and features a signature playscape, a pavilion with flexible community space, fitness equipment, green infrastructure, and accessible parking.
This new green space was made possible thanks to a $3 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and $3 million in city bond funds.
“The Joe Louis Greenway is more than just infrastructure; it’s a celebration of collaboration and fortifies our communities’ connection,” said David Egner, president & CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.
“We take pride in being early supporters, from the project’s inception to significant investments, and now as part of the Unified Greenway Campaign. We’re partnering to ensure that future generations can utilize this invaluable community resource. With the Warren Gateway now complete, we eagerly anticipate the unity and enjoyment it will bring to Dearborn and Detroit, as our partners continue the journey towards the full realization of the Joe Louis Greenway,” he added.
The Joe Louis Greenway is a 27.5-mile recreational loop that will connect 23 Detroit neighborhoods, as well as the cities of Highland Park, Hamtramck and Dearborn to each other and to Detroit’s nationally recognized international waterfront.
The Joe Louis Greenway is a centerpiece of Mayor Duggan’s Blight to Beauty initiative. Construction on the greenway began in 2021, and so far, more than 26 Olympic-sized swimming pools of debris and 23,000 tires have been removed between Warren and I-96 alone.
“The Joe Louis Greenway Partnership is excited for the ribbon cutting on the Warren Gateway Trailhead, this is not just the opening of a new path; we’re opening the path to a future where equitable public spaces unite us, where community engagement fuels our spirit, where social connections weave our stories together, where sustainability breathes life into our environment, and where neighborhood pride shines as our guiding light,” said Leona Medley, Executive Director of the Joe Louis Greenway Partnership.
“This moment is a testament to the power of unity, for when we come together, we pave the way for a brighter, more connected, and sustainable tomorrow. Together, we’ve built more than a trail; we’ve built a legacy of hope and togetherness for generations to come,” she continued.
Joe Louis worked tirelessly to advocate for the rights of Black Americans and to promote social justice in the United States. The Joe Louis Greenway is more than a tribute to his legacy. It celebrates Joe Louis as a role model, as someone whose values can guide this project and the people it brings together.
“I wish we could express how grateful we are as a family to the City of Detroit for their tireless efforts and dedication to keeping our father’s legacy alive and in the hearts of the people of this beautiful city,” said Joyce Barrow-Henderson, daughter of Joe Louis.
“As we celebrate the ribbon-cutting on another leg of this beautiful space, we are filled with overwhelming anticipation for the countless families who will be able to connect and create memories there. My heart swells with pride for the countless opportunities the Joe Louis Greenway will offer the families of Detroit, knowing that my mother and father are never too far away. I believe they will be with us at this event, humble and proud,” she added.
The Joe Louis Greenway will provide a thoroughfare for walkers, bicyclists, and runners to move through Detroit and to neighboring Dearborn parks along the route.
The Warren Gateway stretch of the expansive Joe Louis Greenway project will offer direct connections to three parks in east Dearborn, including one of City’s highly anticipated PEACE parks. Through this gateway connection, visitors can explore more of what Dearborn has to offer by visiting its 40+ park network, cultural sites, and bustling business districts.
“The Joe Louis Greenway will bring communities like ours together by providing the opportunity to strengthen regional partnerships through recreation, connectivity, and economic potential. The Warren Gateway stretch of the greenway is a crucial next step toward connecting resilient neighborhoods with a shared vision for a greener, healthier, and more prosperous future,” said Abdullah H. Hammoud, Dearborn Mayor.
The Joe Louis Greenway project is a major piece of the city’s efforts to address decades of neighborhood disinvestment and to provide opportunities for economic development, environmental remediation, and improved connectivity in around the city of Detroit. Active residents in the Midwest neighborhood, where the new Gateway is located, have worked for years to address blight and abandonment and the Gateway leg of the Joe Louis Greenway will bolster their efforts.
Residents from multiple neighborhood organizations advocated for the Joe Louis Greenway to start in the Midwest neighborhood, including Midwest Civic Council of Block Clubs, Greenway Heritage Conservancy, and Cut the Crap. The community has noticed an increased number of families moving into the neighborhood and rehabilitating properties.
“The City did a fantastic job of engaging the community during the planning stages for the JLG,” said Rushann Long, Member of the Joe Louis Greenway Advisory Council, and lifelong resident of the Midwest neighborhood. “As you look around you can see they not only listened but brought to life many of the things we said we needed and wanted in this space. They took space some said was worthless and forgotten and turned it into something to revitalize the community.”
Similar to JLG, is the Atlanta Beltline in Atlanta, Georgia, which generated over $4 billion in economic impact, 15,000 new jobs, and 2,600 new affordable housing units. Similarly, the San Antonio River Walk generated over $3 billion in economic impact, including 21,000 jobs and 2.2 million local visitors annually. The hope is that the Joe Louis Greenway will make a comparable impact and strides throughout Detroit and Wayne County.
All images courtesy of the Office of Mayor Duggan.