East Canfield Street in Detroit is a perfect street for bike riding. There isn’t much car traffic, the pavement is smooth, and it meanders through all types of residential neighborhoods and terrain. It starts at Alter Road, and with an exception of a few zigzags it runs due west, straight to Woodward Avenue where it changes to West Canfield. Like most of the eastside streets, E. Canfield does not cross the busy railroad tracks at Conner Avenue that trains use to feed parts and pick-up cars from a nearby automotive assembly plant. The only way around them is the Mack Avenue overpass or East Warren Avenue, both about a ½ mile detour.
The one-mile section of E. Canfield between Alter Road and Conner is sparsely populated and mostly free of homes and other buildings. Many of the once heavily populated blocks are open land and have reverted to acres of urban prairies with tall grass, overgrown weeds and large trees. A few urban gardeners have taken advantage of the open acreage by converting several sections to community gardens.
The two-mile stretch from Conner to Gratiot Avenue is much more populated. There are few vacant lots and abandonment is minimal. The homes along that stretch are in good shape, and the architectural styles vary from a nice mix of vintage frame homes, most likely built in the 1920’s and 30’s, to single-family brick places from the 1940’s or 50’s. I also saw quite a few circa 1920’s multi-unit apartment buildings with inviting porches. There is one area where newer, modest two-story homes have been built.
There are quite a few active churches on E. Canfield. On Sundays they are jammed with people, and I can usually hear high-energy gospel music coming from within as I pedal by. There are a couple of large public schools on the street, but both are no longer in use due to shifting populations and consolidation. Retail is pretty much non-existent, with the exception of a couple of party stores and barbershops. Judging by the condition of the vacant commercial buildings, it looked as if the small retail businesses have been out of business for many years.
What I find interesting about E. Canfield is how the landscape changes. Starting at Alter Rd. heading west, it is a sparsely populated with plenty of open land. From Conner Ave. to Gratiot Ave., it is packed full of houses in stable, well-maintained neighborhoods. From Gratiot west to Dequindre Road, near the Detroit Medical Center, it is much like the Alter Rd. section; thinly populated with fewer homes and many fields.
Looking at the landscape as I rode along E. Canfield reminded me of a donut, and in many ways, the street embodies the city of Detroit. The outer edge has open fields and few homes, and the center is full of life.