Written by Brenna Moloney
Recently, on an unusually hot night in early June, the streets of the Central Saginaw City Historic District suddenly sprang to life. All along Jefferson Avenue, families mingled and music played at the feet of some of Saginaw’s most beautiful historic homes. For a brief moment it was easy to forget that many of these homes are empty and have been for a very long time. It was easy to forget that some of them have been stripped and that this neighborhood and this city have seen better times.
What brought everyone to the Historic District and Neighborhood Stabilization Program target zone was Jazz on Jefferson, an annual event coordinated by the South Jefferson Avenue Events and Marketing Committee. Jazz on Jefferson seeks to promote the area as culturally important and a unique urban environment. In addition to local musicians, there are food and drink tents (much of if complimentary), booths with information from local non-profits, a small car show, and tours of houses and their gardens.
These types of community building activities are critical to shrinking cities for a number of reasons, and they should be cultivated and encouraged - not only by preservationists - but by planners and city leaders. Events like Jazz on Jefferson draw people into the streets to experience their city. They also serve to “rally the troops” and buoy the spirits of those living in a shrinking neighborhood and city. The Central Saginaw City Historic District is located on the East side of the Saginaw River and is often maligned as the dangerous part of town. Jazz on Jefferson has become a dual statement by the neighborhood. First, it is safe to come here and second, fear will not rule or define it.
I am touched every time I visit with people from the Central Saginaw City Historic District because the love of their neighborhood is so deep and so apparent. For them, Jazz on Jefferson is a time to celebrate and share their community with the rest of Saginaw. Neighborhood events like Jazz on Jefferson in a shrinking city are also an effort at placemaking and redefinition. All communities are enriched by these events but they are especially important in cities experiencing rightsizing because they are a way to celebrate our sense of place and the historic character of our neighborhoods.
Check out this great promotional video for this year's Jazz on Jefferson to get a feel for what it was like:
Brenna Moloney is a preservation specialist for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network in Saginaw, Michigan. She advises city and county employees on historic preservation, and works to educate the community on the importance and benefits of historic preservation by strengthening their Historic District Commission, offering workshops, and by starting a community advocacy group. Her employment was made possible through a grant from the Americana Foundation. Brenna will be blogging here about her experiences in Saginaw. Read her earlier posts on right-sizing.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.