Guest Blogger: Brian Hurttienne

Brian V. Hurttienne, AIA LEED AP, is the executive director of the Villages Community Development Corporation. He holds a bachelor's degree in architecture from Lawrence Technological University and is a registered historic architect with the state of Michigan.  He has been employed in Detroit for almost 30 years at various architectural firms, as an instructor at Wayne State University, and with his own architecture firm, BVH Architecture, for nine years.  

His career has led him into projects such as the Kales Building, Carlton Condominiums, Grinnell Place Lofts, and the North Corktown Houses, among various restaurants and community projects. Brian has involved himself in community non-profits throughout his educational and professional career, as well as the exhibit "Considering Architecture" at MOCAD, the Sustainable Design Assessment Team, and the AIA-UPC's triple symposium effort "Detroit: by Design", dealing with urban centers, urban agriculture, and transportation. He has lived in Corktown for over 16 years and is an architecture bike tour leader through Wheelhouse Detroit.

Keep All the Plates in the Air

What am I referring to?  It's the ability to make things happen on the wonderful east side of Detroit.  I'm an architect and community planner, and having been engaged in the awesome job of executive director of the Villages Community Development Corporation, I'm steadily and continually rubbing the sticks together to keep all of the things afloat to make this stable area of Detroit even more stable and hopefully thriving in the future.  The Villages are on the near east side along East Jefferson and across the Detroit River from Belle Isle.  The six vintage neighborhoods that make up the Villages are varied and unique, each with its own personality and set of issues and ideas.  Some of them you may be familiar with: Indian Village, West Village and Berry Subdivision.  The other three have newer names: Islandview Village, East Village, and the Gold Coast.

The "plates" refer to the projects and programs which are the short and long term goals of the organization.  We want to get businesses to move into our historic business district, implement a "greenway" along Kercheval Avenue, rehabilitate abandoned houses, create funding sources for educational opportunities, and provide for safety within the neighborhood.  Yeah, just these few things (I'll snap my fingers now!).  But in reality these few things involve a broader community initiative with many more things to do and accomplish, all at the same time.  

What's a greenway?  It's that safe passageway where you can walk, bike and pretty much non-motorize your way around the city.  This place is so ripe for having greenways, it's ridiculous!  As our auto industry retools itself every couple of years, we can always count on our own two feet to lead us to the riches of our community.  Eastern Market is right around the corner.  You'll trip over Belle Isle and get there faster on bike than by car.  The RiverWalk begins here, which takes us right to downtown and the glory that is happening every day, night, and weekend.

Business, business and more busy-ness.  Yes, the Villages needs retail, and in a bad way.  There are a few local establishments that have kept the dream alive all these years, and a hardy thank you to them!  But we need a coffee shop, a vegan café, and a new American-fare restaurant we can all walk to and congregate within.  Throw in a tarot and tea shop and we might have that Village feel.  Well, wouldn't you know that is just what has happened?  

Yes, in the spring of 2013 the Villages will get some much needed love of retail.  Thanks to a host of people including building owners, a cool dude from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, foundation grant awards, and hardy entrepreneurs willing to make a go of it here, we will have the revitalization of our historic business district.  It has taken many months and the stars to align, but it is certainly happening.  And the better part is that it continues.  I have to find more locations for business owners seeking quality space and to fit a niche in this community.  The pop-up places happening now are also continuing through the holiday season with surprising additives to the mix with art and cinema.

Hantz Woodlands, one of the many Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP) endorsed projects, could possibly purchase many individual plots within a large area in order to maintain, plant trees and stabilize the area.  Sure they may make a few bucks, just like the rest of us that own property in Detroit. Right. How many years will it take?

Housing values and the value of the houses: How can we effectively impact the neighborhoods through a housing rehabilitation program?  I am hoping to find out soon, with our eye on some rehab dollars through the federal government.  To know how this will impact housing prices, the stability of the neighborhood, and the growth of the east side is a wonder to assume.  I am eager to see where this will lead and how it will continue.

Having always been an architect, I am really realizing how much broader of an architect I am these days.  Rather than limiting myself to a building or two, I get to think about buildings and infrastructure, places and gatherings, economics and value, and overall a much bigger future.  I get to meet with many people who have the passion for getting things together and moving in the city.  I get to talk to entrepreneurs and building owners about businesses.  I get to think of grant proposals and, if awarded, what they will do to the community.  I get to administer a small office with the flexibility of writing, creating, planning, constructing, and boldly go where everyone thinks we should naturally go, anyway.  With me, of course, I have a wonderful board of directors that is passionate, hardworking and engaged in more than just the neighborhood, but the whole of Detroit.  I know that what we can accomplish here can also be accomplished, and is being done in other neighborhoods across the city.  

You just need to keep all those plates in the air!
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