[The following is a South Oakland Eccentric editorial]
Southfield city officials have long hoped to create what they call a City Centre, located in the general area of Evergreen and Civic Center Drive. Bad spelling aside, the idea is a good one that holds promise.
The Evergreen/Civic Center Drive area is pretty much the heart of the city. It certainly corrals the tall buildings for which its skyline is known. But the area also is known for being home to far more than the office culture.
Casual observers may not know it, but Southfield has become a college town. Don't laugh. There are two major campuses in the city, namely Lawrence Technological University, located between 10 Mile Road and Northwestern, and Oakland Community College, located just off of Nine Mile Road between Greenfield and Southfield.
But that's not all. The city has become the nucleus for many universities and colleges, ranging from the University of Phoenix to Davenport, Central Michigan and Siena, among others.
That many of them have located in the City Centre has not gone unnoticed by at least some city officials. Nor has it been lost on the restaurant business community. As LTU students recently put it, Evergreen offers a little slice of everything, from cupcakes to Thai food.
Little strip centers are locating up and down Evergreen, and quite successfully so. Stop in at the Biggby Coffee located across from the Civic Center (no bad spelling there), and you'll witness a steady stream of customers. That was also the case at Just Baked, located on Evergreen just north of 10 Mile, shortly after it opened.
Interestingly enough, it is a mixture of office workers and students who visit these stores.
With all the activities that take place in the pavilion of the Civic Center, and outside on its spacious lawn, it's the perfect location for a restaurant. But it could be so much more.
There are vacancies in some of those high rises that could be developed for alternative uses, such as retail. Certainly there are other applications, but the city will need a broad-based redevelopment of the area to make it a true City Centre. That will require infrastructure improvements, and the City Council ought to start planning for the possibilities now. Planning doesn't have to mean that everything will happen at once. Logically, it could not, but without planning, nothing ever will. And that planning will have to take in the general area that craddles the central area.
At its core, the city is made up of people, not buildings or concrete. But it is buildings that are now drawing people and concrete (or asphalt) that is taking them to the center of the city. If Southfield officials hope to attract more people, whether they be office workers, students or actual residents, it will need the infrastructure to make that happen.
Of course, there are probably those who say to heck with it and turn their backs on planning for what could help pull Southfield out from economic pressures, such as the large number of foreclosures. Hopefully, those few will not prevail.
For now, students over at LTU are willing to help with the project. In fact, five of them may be students, but they are among those who are also adults by now and soon will graduate, Those five have won honors in developing plans for everything from a menu to a logo for an eatery that could be located in the old Ink Stop on Evergreen, in the same strip center as Just Baked.
Their designs are creative and forward-looking. But even more important than the designs is what they represent — the future. It is a future represented by those who will actively frequent shops and other amenities to come for the City Centre.
Those students, and others in the area, recognize that Southfield is no longer a suburb but on the verge of becoming an urban destination. City officials would do well to talk with students, office workers — and especially residents — about how the city should reinvent itself.
As it now stands, reinhabiting business and housing locations needs a measurable stimulus, and that means something more than slapping the area with an awkwardly misspelled name that no one will get right a few years from now.