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Stories of Impact

Natural Environment

Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Connects Neighborhoods and Preserves Ecology with its Southwest Greenway

“The greenway will provide a special experience that connects neighborhoods, improves commutes and really impacts the lived experience of Detroiters.”

-Mark Wallace, President & CEO, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

Detroit, MI (April 2022)In 2003, a small group of local leaders presented a bold vision for Detroit’s waterfront. The vision was inspired by the belief that all Detroiters should have safe, clean, accessible, and welcoming places to gather on the river. From this vision, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy was born, and a plan emerged for a five-and-a-half-mile public space spanning the Ambassador Bridge to the MacArthur Bridge at Belle Isle. Today, the riverfront welcomes more than three million visitors annually.

Building on the success of these beloved public spaces, the Conservancy is now developing The Southwest Greenway — the next neighborhood connection to the Detroit Riverfront. This vision reimagines an old train line into an activated space that connects the vibrant Corktown, Mexicantown, and Southwest Detroit neighborhoods to the myriad opportunities for recreation and physical activity at the Detroit Riverwalk. The trail will be a part of the expansive Joe Louis Greenway, a 27-mile trail system that will wind throughout the entire city.

Rendering of Southwest Greenway courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

The Southwest Greenway will enable a Southwest Detroit family to ride bikes to Belle Isle or Eastern Market. Residents of Islandview can commute by MoGo bike to work at the Ford campus in Corktown. “When you look at the people whose lives can be enhanced by this trail, the opportunities are tremendous,” says Mark Wallace. “Southwest Detroit has a vast number of families and senior citizens. These are populations that are highly likely to use amenities. The greenway will make it easier to cross the street, reach the riverfront and engage with community. It will really improve the lived experience in the area.”

To ensure the functionality of the greenway, effective stormwater management is critical. The greenway lies below grade on the former site of a creek and over top of an active rail tunnel, which complicates drainage at the site. The Walters Family Foundation is supporting the creation of an engineered wetland and boardwalk that will prevent flooding, enhance the surrounding ecology and add beauty to the trailhead.

“This may feel like just a special planted area but it’s actually accomplishing multiple things at the same time,” says Wallace. “The entire riverfront sits at an intersection of two major flyways, one for butterflies and one for birds. As they're migrating, they all come together right on the Detroit riverfront. Planting additional native plants in this zone will really add to that. The stormwater also helps the creepy crawlers that the butterflies and the birds like to eat. So there’s immediate benefit.”

Boosting neighborhood vitality and preserving the natural environment are essential values that drive the Walters Family Foundation. The Southwest Greenway sits at the intersection of both, and will provide incredible access to resources and  a sense of beauty for all to enjoy.

Matt Walters, Matt Cullen, Carol Walters, Peter Walters, and Mark Wallace celebrating the groundbreaking for the Southwest Greenway. Photo courtesy of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.