Location, Location, Location! The redevelopment potential of Detroit's vacant schools has a lot to do with what is happening in the neighborhood around them. Some schools are in areas that are eligible for special development tools. Other schools are near jobs and business activity, or are close to good transportation. Still others are near amenities like parks, rec centers, libraries, and active schools which boost quality of life. All of those factors can support redevelopment at vacant school sites. But also, there is opportunity at vacant school sites in neighborhoods that don't have all those strengths—development at those schools could be the spark that starts up new activity in places where it's needed most.
Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) Areas
Ten Detroit neighborhoods have been selected for special investment from the Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF). The SNF initiative, launched in 2014, provides funding for community-driven projects in four specific areas: park improvements, streetscape improvements, commercial corridor development, and affordable single-family home stabilization. The City of Detroit's Planning and Development Department has been leading special planning efforts in these SNF areas.
There are nine City-owned vacant schools located in SNF areas. These are high-priority redevelopment sites for three important reasons. First, these schools could be eligible for additional support for development. Second, they can benefit from and build on the other neighborhood investments happening nearby. Third, redevelopment at these schools could have a major positive impact on the rest of the neighborhood, kick-starting other development and investment activity. Click a school on the map to view its profile page and learn more.
Job centers, shopping and entertainment districts, and institutions for education and training are all examples of economic hubs that drive growth and development in Detroit. Redeveloped vacant school sites near these areas can benefit from the economic activity, resources, and amenities; the schools can also help build up and strengthen these hubs and encourage more investment.
Vacant school sites that are located far from existing economic hubs could be opportunities for sparking new economic activity in neighborhoods that need it. Uses like small business incubators, training centers, and spaces for making and light manufacturing could provide a big boost for neighborhoods.
The map at right shows City-owned vacant schools relative to some of Detroit's major economic hubs.
Convenient freeway access is important in the Motor City! Easy freeway access can be an important selling point for a variety of reasons. For residential uses, easy freeway access means better connections to jobs, shopping, services, entertainment and recreation, and friends and family. For commercial uses, being near freeways means better access to customers across the city and metro area, as well as more convenient shipping and receiving. Finally, for industrial uses, freeway access is a must for reducing truck travel time—not only for speed and cost reasons, but also to prevent trucks from driving through residential neighborhoods.
The map at right shows City-owned vacant schools relative to Detroit’s freeways and on/off-ramps. Schools with labels are within a half-mile of freeway access—about 1 minute drive on local roads. Click a school on the map to view its profile page and learn more.
Public parks and green space are important parts of any neighborhood. Detroit’s public school grounds often feature large grassy playfields, playground equipment, sports courts, and gardens. Because of this, schools have long served as important unofficial neighborhood parks that exist alongside the official city park system.
The map at right shows City-owned vacant schools relative to city parks. School sites located near parks may be desirable locations for many types of reuse, including residential, mixed-use, and community programming. School sites located in park “gap” areas (grey areas on map, meaning no park within 0.25 mi) could provide opportunities for restoring walkable neighborhood green space.
Rec Center Access
Public recreation centers create healthier communities by providing space for fitness and play; they also strengthen communities by providing space for community meetings and events, and programming and services for all ages.
The map at right shows City-owned vacant schools and City of Detroit Recreation Centers. Schools located near rec centers may be desirable locations for residential uses, senior housing, shelters, and other social support, since residents can benefit from the public services offered. On the other hand, schools located in rec center “gap areas” (orange areas on map, meaning no rec center within 2 miles) may be good locations for incorporating new recreation and community-oriented uses, since there is no rec center nearby to fill those needs.
Public libraries are important community anchors. Libraries are not only sites for promoting all-ages learning and literacy, they also offer employment support and services, access to internet and digital tools, safe spaces for youth and teens, heating and cooling centers for the vulnerable, and meeting space for community groups.
The map at right shows City-owned vacant schools and Detroit Public Library branches. Schools located near libraries may be desirable locations for residential uses, senior housing, shelters, and other social support, since residents can benefit from the library services offered. On the other hand, schools located in library “gap areas” (red areas on map, meaning no library within 2 miles) may be good locations for incorporating educational and community-oriented uses, since there is no library nearby to fill those needs.
Public schools are one of the most important community anchors of all. The City-owned vacant schools in this study will probably never re-open as public schools again. However, vacant school sites can still be re-used as sites for learning, health and recreation, community building, and other social services—important services public schools offer in addition to classroom education.
The map at right shows City-owned vacant schools and active DPSCD public schools. Vacant schools located near active schools may be desirable locations for residential uses, particularly family-oriented housing. On the other hand, vacant schools located in school “gap areas” (blue areas on map, meaning no school within 1 mile) may be good locations for reuse incorporating education, training, youth services, and community-oriented programming.
Community Resource Gaps
The city maps above highlight resource “gaps”—areas that lack easy access to key community resources like libraries, rec centers, schools, and parks. In Detroit, like many other cities, these gap areas often overlap.
The map at right shows library, rec center, school, and park gaps overlaid on the same map. Seventeen City-owned vacant schools—almost half of those in the study—are located in areas with at least two overlapping resource gaps. When redeveloping those sites, strong consideration should be given to including inclusive, community-oriented programming and amenities that help fill existing resource gaps.
The map also shows that there are a handful of schools that are in relatively well-served areas with no major resource gaps. These schools should be considered as priority development sites that can both benefit from the existing network of services, as well as help further stabilize and catalyze their neighborhoods.