Diversity, innovation, connectedness inform Dearborn’s new vision for its downtowns

The Dearborn Downtown Development Authorities (DDDAs) are seeking public input on a new plan that will establish a cohesive vision for both East and West Downtown Dearborn through 2030 and beyond.


The Downtown Dearborn Vision Plan aims to build upon the city of Dearborn's master plan, Branding Dearborn initiative, and other recent city planning efforts.


"We're pulling that all together to develop a long-term vision for downtown Dearborn, a 10- and 15-year vision of where we want to be," says Cristina Sheppard-Decius, manager of the DDDAs.


In October the DDDAs launched the first step of that process: an online survey open to Dearborn residents, business owners, students, employees, visitors, and other invested community members.


"We want to hear from them what would make Dearborn, and the downtowns in particular, more diverse, innovative, and connected," Sheppard-Decius says.


Those themes of diversity, innovation, and connectedness are taken directly from the Branding Dearborn project. Sheppard-Decius says the DDDAs want to consider each of those themes through economic, physical, social, and environmental lenses – for example, examining what it would mean for Dearborn's downtowns to be more economically or socially diverse.


Response to the survey has been strong so far, thanks in part to the assistance of neighborhood groups and chambers of commerce that have distributed it to their constituents. But Sheppard-Decius says there's still work to be done to ensure that the respondents are as diverse as possible. She says the DDDAs are reaching out to neighborhood groups in ZIP codes that have seen lower survey response, and to the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford College to get more engagement from younger respondents.


"We also want to see responses from high schoolers, those who are probably going to be our next generation of entrepreneurs in 10 years," Sheppard-Decius says. "To hear some of their thoughts and ideas about their own community is really important."


The DDDAs plan to complete their information gathering later this year and to formally release the vision plan early next year.


"The document we develop is going to be something that really helps us to market ourselves and share with others where we're going and what we're working on," Sheppard-Decius says.


She anticipates that the vision plan will emphasize putting additional resources toward helping entrepreneurs start and build businesses.


"Especially given the state that we're in right now, our businesses need our help," Sheppard-Decius says. "But at the same time, we know that the market can shift. We need to be really creating opportunities for new entrepreneurs to come into the downtowns and a more diverse mix of businesses and business owners."


Sheppard-Decius adds that the strategies the DDDAs are currently deploying to strengthen the downtowns aren't likely to change much as a result of the plan, but they'll be taking new actions to achieve their broader goals. For instance, she notes, making Michigan Avenue more walkable has been a longtime goal for the city and the DDDAs. But she anticipates that the vision plan will create more detailed new strategies on how to achieve that goal.


"We're going to the next level," she says. "We were kind of at the beginner stage and now we're moving on up. There's a cadence to some of the things that we're doing."


Read more articles by Patrick Dunn.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @patrickdunnhere