CCF’s Dr. Adhid Miri featured on Bridge Detroit about Chaldean Town

Feb 8, 2024

A butcher shop, Iraqi restaurant and youth center are among the few remaining signs of the once-thriving Chaldean Town neighborhood in northwest Detroit.

If the city passes a plan for a new solar project here, those remnants will fade further.

The area is one of nine under consideration for large solar arrays that would power 127 city buildings, including the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, police and fire stations and recreation centers. The plan would assemble 250 acres across six areas of mostly vacant former neighborhoods like this one.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has pitched the program as a way to fight climate change and cut down on illegal dumping by fencing off abandoned areas. But some residents are concerned that the projects will drive disinvestment and hamper population growth.

Adhid Miri, a historian and special projects director for the Chaldean Community Foundation, is against the plan. He would rather see commercial development or a “major attraction” in Chaldean Town, such as a museum, water park or amusement park.

“But a solar farm in the middle of town…I think it’s insane,” he said.

Chaldean Community Foundation Special Projects Director Adhid Miri outside of S&J Meats last year. The butcher shop is one of the last remaining businesses in Chaldean Town. Credit: Courtesy photo from Adhid Miri

Investment in Chaldean Town could help boost the struggling neighborhood, Miri said, where few Chaldeans remain, several storefronts are boarded up and residential areas are full of vacant land.

In its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, Chaldean Town was the first stop for thousands of Chaldeans immigrating to the United States. They raised families and opened up grocery stores, restaurants and doctor’s offices.

But by the 1980s, the crack epidemic swept through Detroit, as did crime, causing Chaldeans to move to suburban communities in Oakland and Macomb counties.

“Families, especially the second generation, wanted to provide better opportunities for their kids, so they went to Southfield and Oak Park,” Miri said.

Chaldean Town now joins other former ethnic enclaves like Black BottomChinatown and Poletown, where history has been all but erased except in the minds of those who used to live and work there.

A haven for the Chaldean community 

Nestled between the State Fair, Nolan and affluent Palmer Woods neighborhoods,  Chaldean Town is roughly bounded by Woodward Avenue, Seven Mile Road, John R and Lantz streets.

In 1947, only 80 Chaldean families lived in Detroit. By 1967, that number soared to about 3,400, according to the Chaldean News.

The population spiked when Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, abolishing a 1920s policy where each nationality was assigned a quota based on its representation in past U.S. census figures.

“That made the community grow exponentially,” Miri said. “And so, in the late 60s, early 70s, you saw a huge influx of immigrants from the Middle East, specifically from Iraq. When these people came, most of them decided to come to Michigan because their family was here. Seven Mile was choice one.”

While Chaldean Town was a thriving neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s, things began to change in the 1980s once drugs and crime entered the picture.

Once things began to decline, “police just were not able to keep up with the crime,” said Sally Howell, director of Arab American studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“They (Chaldeans) didn’t want to leave; it had been such an important home to so many people when they first came here,” said Howell, noting by the 90s people were moving further north.

In 1999, city officials worked with the Chaldean Federation in an attempt to revive the neighborhood. Plans called for an entertainment district along the strip between Woodward and John R, similar to Greektown, according to the Detroit Free Press. That’s when the city gave the neighborhood its official name of Chaldean Town. But the comeback attempt fell through and residents continued to leave.




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