The 1920 photo above shows Broadway looking towards Plymouth. For most of its history, buildings lined both sides of Broadway, providing a feeling of destination and community. Check out the large number of buildings in the center of Lower Town on this map from 1853. The “Huron Block” across the street from St. Vincent De Paul’s housed grocery and variety stores, saloons, a meat market, and a bakery. But it was torn down in 1959, and that side of Broadway is now mostly an open parking lot.
Gradually, industry left Lower Town, and the university began buying up property and removing houses to make room for offices and parking. Many drivers now consider Lower Town just a place to pass through quickly. Car speeds and crosswalks in the area have become risky for walkers and bicyclists.
Although it is a very accessible location–walkable to downtown Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan Hospital (the region’s largest employer) and both UM campuses–there is a lot of underutilized space in Lower Town. With minimal housing and only a few destinations to attract visitors, not many people reap the potential benefits of this great location.
With less people utilizing the area, especially at night, there are fewer “eyes on the street” and crime can be a concern. For instance, the Broadway Party Store has been robbed repeatedly.
Lower Town once had so much more vitality and utility to both residents and visitors than it does today. With vision and collaboration, it can become a true asset to the region once again.