Two things caught my attention when I decided to buy a house in Windsor almost a year ago: endless suburban sprawl and depressing urban blight.
Still feeling like a tourist, I was disappointed to see the downtown core of such a beautiful city lined with so many empty storefronts. And it wasn’t just the downtown core. There are empty buildings everywhere in this city.
Having spent a quarter of my life living on the tundra, a big factor in my decision making process was finding a little old house in a funky neighbourhood. I didn’t want to live in a sterile, lifeless, cookie-cutter suburb and I didn’t want to live right downtown. I’m a walker, so I wanted to find a place that was close to the usual necessities: grocery store, coffee shop, restaurants and local stores.
It didn’t take long for me to discover Ford City, and it was love at first sight. It feels like a small town in the big city. It’s a charming neighbourhood, almost a community in itself and it certainly has seen its fair share of ups and downs.
When I left the hotel to take a look at some of the properties I was interested in, I told the taxi driver to drop me off about two blocks from my destination. I wanted to walk the neighbourhood and see what it was like.
Do people take care of their yards? How well do people take care of their houses? What are the streets like?
Just about everyone I know told me I was crazy to consider Ford City and I think I heard just about every negative description possible. There’s crime. There’s hookers everywhere. Lots of homeless people and drug addicts. It’s a slum. A ghetto.
I didn’t see any of those things. And after a year of living here, I still haven’t.
So, impressed with what I saw in the neighbourhood, I went back and did some more homework. I read a wonderful article by Dawn Trottier in the Windsor Star. One paragraph she wrote really stood out in my mind: “I will admit that I had many pre-conceived notions about Drouillard Road. It’s like when someone says they absolutely do not like sushi and when you ask them if they have tried it, they say no. Well, then how would you know?”
Another aspect of Ford City in Trottier’s article was her mention of the lack of big box chain stores that seem to dot every major road and street in every city these days. It’s true.
The economic downturns in the automotive and manufacturing sectors over the years have hit Windsor hard more than once and Ford City is no exception. The neighbourhood was established in the early 1900s to support workers and their families with the Ford Motor Company of Canada. Ford City fell on hard times and is still recovering. But what many, especially those who haven’t experienced it don’t seem to notice is the charm, grit and resilience of its residents. There’s a sense of pride here I don’t see in many other parts of the city – or many of the other cities I’ve visited.
While working on my garden earlier this summer an elderly lady asked if she could sit on my porch to rest and cool off. We had a delightful conversation about the neighbourhood and its history. There are good people here from all walks of life.
What I see when I walk the streets of Ford City is a neighbourhood with lots of brick and wooden houses, many dating back to the 1920s and ‘30s. There are many local shops and storefronts. There are churches, antique stores, a few restaurants, a huge community centre, a sports park, a beautiful community garden and street art seems to be everywhere. They even have an authentic German biergarten! People are welcoming. They say hello. They smile. That’s always a good sign.
Like many other areas of Windsor, there are still a lot of empty storefronts and vacant buildings, but Ford City is fortunate to have a number of very active groups like Ford City Neighbourhood Renewal who are working hard to turn things around. They host a number of workshops on topics like financial literacy, home improvement and community engagement. They organize community events like their annual neighbourhood fireworks with games and food. I took my nieces and nephews to the fireworks this year and they loved it!
There is a real sense of community here.
Many of the residents I talk to speak of the need for economic diversification. Windsor has always been a centre for manufacturing, heavily reliant on the automotive industry. Many have mentioned the lack of incentives to support small businesses and entrepreneurship.
The city seems to be listening. In 2017 the Ontario government amended the Municipal Act to allow the city to stop providing tax breaks — up to 30 per cent — for vacant commercial buildings. And this past month city council released a long-awaited Community Investment Plan for Ford City.
You can read it here.
It’s a big document. Packed with history, statistics and plans to revitalize the neighbourhood, the Ford City CIP is a very positive step in the right direction and I hope it succeeds. I haven’t been here long, but I’ve grown to love this neighbourhood and its friendly people.
I’ve thought about opening my own small business for a long time, and seeing positive steps like the release of this community investment plan gives me an increased sense of confidence that Ford City is a good place to live, work and invest.