Category: Community Published on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 10:27 Written by Faye Nelson
Happy 10th Birthday To Our Riverfront!
CEO says Detroit’s Riverfront thrives through community support
As children head back to the classroom for the start of another school year and we begin to wrap up another fabulous summer season on the Detroit riverfront, I reflect on how much the community’s embrace of this new public space has continued to grow each year.
When the non-profit Detroit RiverFront Conservancy began its journey with its public and private partners to transform the Detroit riverfront in 2003, we knew from the very beginning that the community’s support would be critical to our success. Speaking with residents from the neighborhoods along the riverfront and across the city, we were asked that the public space along the river celebrate Detroit and embrace all generations in a way that encourages them to see, touch, hear and experience the riverfront.
Now, 10 years later, the riverfront has become a destination for Detroiters of all ages to connect with each other and experience this beautiful resource through a wide variety of activities and programs, contributing to an improved quality of life throughout our community.
Earlier this summer the Conservancy launched new riverfront “placemaking” activities, which provided the community a new sand beach volleyball court to enjoy, as well as hundreds of beach-type amenities and other free activities along the riverfront including Adirondack chairs, chaise lounges, gliders, beach sling chairs, over-sized lawn games, family activities and mini-lending libraries.
I have watched in delight each week, as groups of young friends, coworkers, parents and children gathered in Rivard Plaza to take off their shoes and jump around in the sand for a game of volleyball. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to check out these new attractions, they will still be available through the end of this month and also back next spring.
The Detroit riverfront has become one of the most popular locations for Detroiters to work up a sweat and focus on achieving their health and wellness goals, through daily biking, running, walking and more. The Conservancy has worked to establish partnerships throughout the community to offer free programs from senior walking groups to weekly yoga classes, dog walks and more.
Other groups have also been inspired to start their own fitness routines and programs, including Run This Town, which launched last year with the goal of helping their members excel personally, professionally and physically. This group now draws more than 200 people down to the riverfront on Tuesday evenings throughout the summer for group jogs and runs and a series of cardio and strength training workouts using the RiverWalk as their gym and inspiration.
In addition to health and wellness, the Conservancy also works with its many partners to provide a variety of educational opportunities for our youth. This summer, during our third season of Reading and Rhythm on the Riverfront, we had more than 3,600 children attend the program to listen to book readings by local celebrities, participate in an arts and crafts project, enjoy a healthy snack and take a ride on the Cullen Family Carousel. The children were also able to take home free books from the Detroit Public Library bookmobile. And while the program has finished for the season, our new mini-libraries placed along the RiverWalk have books for adults and children to borrow and read while they enjoy the riverfront.
The Detroit riverfront is also home to Michigan’s first urban state park, which provides wonderful opportunities to connect families and children with nature. Earlier this summer, more than 750 fifth-grade students from Detroit and Windsor spent a half-day taking part in fun activities and learning about water ecology, water conservation, root systems, recycling and more in the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor. We also partnered with the Sierra Club and Maxi Containers to host a workshop to teach more than 100 attendees how to save more than a half-million gallons of water from our storm treatment system through rain barrels.
One of my other favorite riverfront programs is the annual Kids Fishing Fest, a free event that now draws more than 500 children, along with their parents and grandparents, down to the riverfront and state park to learn how to fish in the Detroit River. It’s great to see families creating new memories together, enjoying the great outdoors, while also learning about fishing safety and consumption.
For far too long, our riverfront was only known for its abandoned buildings and neglect, but here we are 10 years later and those memories are beginning to fade as they are replaced with memories of a bike ride on the Dequindre Cut, a fishing lesson along the banks of the river, a beach volleyball game or just an evening of reading and relaxing along the river on a chaise lounge.
It’s important that we see beyond just the bricks and mortar of what has been built on the riverfront today, and look deeper into how this new destination, through a shared vision, is helping to shape and contribute to the future of our city. As the Conservancy and its public and private partners embark on the next decade of transforming the riverfront, we look forward to all the new opportunities it will bring with it for our community and invite Detroiters and metro Detroiters alike to visit the riverfront and join in this truly transformational effort.
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