How I Stopped Gentrification in My Neighborhood

by Cornetta Lane

edited by Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe and Reshounn Foster

Cornetta Lane, 28, lead a group of bikers through her neighborhood in Detroit. The mission was to preserve the historical identity of Core City in stoop to stoop storytelling tour. Photo by Rachel Rosenbaum.

A married couple went on a quest to find a new place to live in Detroit. They stumbled upon a seemingly uninhabited neighborhood.

Along a quarter mile stretch of Michigan Avenue are abandoned buildings colored with graffiti; houses crumbled upon vacant lots littered with yesteryear’s rubbish; vehicles always pass through but never park.

The vision for this area was to replicate the success of Corktown, an adjacent neighborhood, by transforming empty storefronts into profitable businesses. The couple purchased a 2,200 square feet unoccupied bank on Michigan Avenue and converted it into an luxurious living space.

Eventually, they gave the new neighborhood a name, ‘West Corktown’.

Super cool, right? Except families that have lived in the area for generations call it “Core City”. A place where underground canals supply water to beautiful weeping willows. A place where neighbors help each other with small home improvements. A place where I first learned to ride my bike without training wheels.

Core City is home.

A system of underground canals spread throughout the city giving life to trees like the sleeping willow.

To call it by another name is to disregard the historical and cultural identity of a place. And in a city like Detroit where life-long residents feel disenfranchised and new-comers feel unwelcomed, “blank slate” thinking drives further disconnection between the two.

As I read an article lauding the couple for “creating a new neighborhood” that will “draw attention to…buyers”, I was surprised to learn that I was living in prime real estate. Our neighborhood has been long ignored by basic city services. And by our own volition, we not only maintain our property but the unowned land around our homes. We take pride in our community.

Each of us has a story to tell.

My story begins with an invitation to become an Emerging City Champion in the K8–80 fellowship. As a fellow, I learned about community sustainability and innovative storytelling techniques. As a result, I launched Core City Stories — a bike tour that included stops where Core City residents use their front porch as a stage to tell their story.

Ms. Parnell shared memories of her childhood and ancedotes about patrons of the blind pig that was across the street from her family’s home. Photo by Rachel Rosenbaum.

Riding from porch to porch, the bikers authentically experienced Core City’s landscape. And, through their stories, my neighbors powerfully displayed their resiliency and commitment to the neighborhood. As I watched a genuine heart-to-heart exchange between listener and teller, I remembered why I organized the tour in the first place.

I finally had a face-to-face conversation with the couple.

They apologized and said, “It was a joke. We found ourselves constantly telling friends that we were moving west of Corktown. And at a party after a few drinks, we told them that we lived in West Corktown.”

It was completely harmless, right? But, when a joke leads to the development of a website, a Facebook following of over 1,200 and a seat at the table with the Mayor of Detroit about redevelopment in the neighborhood — that’s power.

But, what’s more powerful is the stories of residents such as Eleanor Parnell, Howard King, Lillie Skinner and Amy Good.

Each story builds upon a collective memory of the beauty, degradation and rebound of the neighborhood. I invite you to read their narratives as part of Core City Stories: A Photo Essay Series.

I will release the stories as they are completed. To stay up-to-date about the series and future bike tours, please visit: corecitystories.strikingly.com.


About Cornetta Lane

Cornetta Lane is a storyteller. She courageously told her first story live on stage at the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers. Cornetta told a story about the unfortunate passing of her father and realized that it facilitated her grieving and healing process. Since then, she quit her full-time job to focus on telling stories and helping people to craft and tell their own narratives.