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Jefferson East, Inc.

14628 E. Jefferson
Detroit, Michigan 48215

Ritchie Harrison

By MJ Galbraith
November 8, 2013

Ritchie Harrison grew up in Lafayette Park. It's one of Detroit's historic neighborhoods, world-renowned just as much for its Mies van der Rohe-designed town homes and highrises as it is for being a model of success in urban renewal and planning. Ritchie himself says it's no wonder then that he grew up to be involved in community development. He's the Economic Development Director for Jefferson East, Inc., an organization formed at the beginning of 2013. It merges the Jefferson East Business Association with the East Jefferson Corridor Collaborative, connecting neighborhoods along the East Jefferson corridor.
Even back in 6th grade, Ritchie and his friends sat around the lunch tables and talked about how to improve the city. Though they didn't know it back then, what Ritchie and his schoolmates were discussing is called placemaking, which is exactly what Ritchie is now working toward at Jefferson East, Inc.
"We're looking at ways we can begin to bring people out to our community and to bring folks that live in the community out. Because a lot of folks hit Jefferson Avenue and then they head out. They don't have the opportunity to really explore their community," says Ritchie. "So we're trying to bring focus back on the assets that we have in Jefferson Avenue and really begin to build momentum for what can take place in the future."
Jazzin' on Jefferson, the annual street festival in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer. It's an example of the organization's efforts to draw people to the area and demonstrate what East Jefferson has to offer. This summer, Ritchie expanded on the success of the jazz festival by creating June on Jefferson. The month-long event placed five pop-up businesses in the historic district, further exhibiting the neighborhood's potential. June on Jefferson was so successful that one of the businesses, a cafe called Coffee and (________), has stayed open and is currently working toward becoming a permanent fixture of the neighborhood.
With the recent revitalization success stories of downtown and Midtown, Ritchie sees a natural progression to city neighborhoods. He sees a Detroit where people will go out shopping along Livernois, grab a bite at a Corktown restaurant, and sit down for a cup of coffee in Jefferson-Chalmers. People are becoming curious with what's happening in Detroit's neighborhoods again and Ritchie is positioning East Jefferson to be a destination instead of a thoroughfare.
"I think that attention is being focused on neighborhoods now for the important role that we have in creating destinations, creating places that people can get to, that allow people to partake in a neighborhood type of tourism, of allowing people to go and explore their communities again," says Ritchie.
Ritchie has a lot of plans for the future of East Jefferson. When JEBA and EJCC merged, Ritchie's focus on the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood expanded to include the entire East Jefferson Corridor, from I-375 to the Detroit-Grosse Pointe Park border. The June on Jefferson pop-up series will return next year but it will also move into other neighborhoods along the Avenue. Business improvement and creation will remain a focus but better defining the area's many neighborhoods will become a priority. TechTown is getting involved in the neighborhoods with their SWOT City initiative. More place-making strategies will be implemented through a partnership with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center.
"Where you live is not only impacted by the space you're living in but also by looking out into the community and seeing what's there," says Ritchie. If things keep going the way they are, Ritchie's East Jefferson neighborhoods stand to see a lot more.

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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