rustbelt road trip 2009

Detroit

DETROIT

Itinerary in Brief

Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Southwest Detroit Business Association
Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan
Michigan Land Bank
Brightmoor Neighborhood, Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development

Organization Descriptions

Detroit Collaborative Design Center: DCDC fosters university and community collaborations and partnerships that create inspired and sustainable neighborhoods and spaces for all people [and are] dedicated to urban and community revitalization through an educational and participatory design process… the results are actual built projects and working master plans.

Southwest Detroit Business Association : Founded in 1957, the Southwest Detroit Business Association fosters innovation, drive, and commitment in our community. We work with investors, entrepreneurs, customers, and neighbors to capitalize on Southwest Detroit’s competitive advantage. We support our community’s vision for a healthy, vibrant neighborhood. Together we are developing a place where more people are choosing to live, work, invest, shop, and play – a place where you will find Business Building Community. Community Building Business.

Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan: For the past 25 years, the Community Foundation has served as a vehicle for donors, volunteers and community members to identify important issues, share ideas and build financial resources to make positive long-term change.

We do this by:
• Making strategic investments in programs and organizations that benefit the region
• Equipping organizations and the public with knowledge and information that will lead to positive change
• Building endowment – community capital – to meet our region’s needs today and tomorrow

• Providing expert assistance to donors and their advisers in their charitable planning

Northwest Detroit Neighborhood DevelopmentEstablished in 1989, Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development (NDND) is the non-profit 501(c)(3) neighborhood-based community development corporation dedicated to the revitalization of northwest Detroit’s Brightmoor community, a four-square-mile area (bordered by Puritan on the north, Fullerton on the south, Telegraph on the west and Evergreen/Westwood on the east).

Reflection

In Detroit, we had an amazing day that benefited from several per-chance encounters. In the morning we spoke with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center who are committed to a process of stakeholder collaboration from beginning to end of the design process. From DCDC we drove to the Southwest Detroit Business Association where we were lucky to combine our meeting with Matt Bihun from SDBA and with Paul Krystyniak from Bridging Communities who took us on a driving tour of the neighborhood showing the business development and housing side of issues. For lunch, we went to the wonderful Russell Street Deli where I had one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. More importantly than the sandwich, we spoke with Tom Woiwode and Sue of the Community Foundation’s Greenway Initiative who have just open a major piece of an urban greenway in the center of town, the Dequindre Cut. A nice stroll down the length of the greenway to the Detroit riverwalk and we were on our way to the Michigan State Land Bank followed by a neighborhood award ceremony and impromptu tour of the Brightmoor neighborhood led by John O’Brien of Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development.

The work in Detroit is energizing. Our schedule was absolutely crazy busy but by the end, I just wanted to see more. And, by the end of it, I was reimagining my role as a planner.

In planning school, we learn a lot about growth. How to manage it, how to do it smartly, how to increase it. Our profession has far less tools to work with the opposite context. Currently, we have planning challenges for which we do not have planning solutions. Traditional planning—which oftentimes involves a varying levels of bureaucracy—has not been able to respond to these challenges. As we saw in many cities, the void of government response due to diminishing resources has encouraged innovation and action. Where there is a gap between issue and action, non-profit groups are doing the work of “planners.”

At the Detroit Collaborative Design Center—run out of University of Detroit Mercy—we spoke with a group of architects engaged in community initiated, long-term, collaborative processes to form neighborhood plans, design-builds, green infrastructure plans, and the like. Without a current master plan for the city, the Center has worked with neighborhood groups to develop plans for their own communities. While not every plan is implemented, the process helps many neighborhoods better understand their strengths and opportunities and can assist in planning later on down the line.

Our conversation and tour with Matt from SWDBA and Paul from Bridging Communities Inc., took us through one of Detroit’s strongest areas. Construction, new businesses, homes in various stages of rehabilitation all provided such a strong contrast to what we always hear in the general media. Of course vacancies and abandonment abound and both of these organizations are working to mitigate effects of those and other challenges. However, Matt and Paul were able to offer a show and tell of people who are defying the general opinion of Detroit and choosing to live and work there. In this area, small business owners, traditionally tax averse, voted to tax themselves higher in order to fund additional development in the area. Paul and Matt were so energetic about what was going on in their neighborhood. At every corner they debated which way to turn because at every corner there was another opportunity to demonstrate people and groups meeting the challenges of Detroit.

Every person I’ve met is doing community development and every person I’ve met is doing policy work. The power of these cities, of these mid-size cities and of being energetic is that you don’t stay in your box—you do, and you can, and you have to, do everything. We’ve seen that in every person we’ve spoken to and that is powerful.

From there we went to speak with Tom and Sue from the Greenways Initiative of the Community Foundation. Just this month, a major project of the Initiative—the Dequindre Cut greenway—opened. The 1.2 mile path is below street level and takes advantage of the abandoned Grand Trunk rail line. It links together the awesome Eastern Market and the Riverfront Park. The groups involved see this as the first of a system of green infrastructure. In addition to the Greenway, Tom and Sue showed us sites that Greening Detroit will begin cultivating as part of their urban agriculture project. The initiative is a great example of a group taking advantage of the abundant vacant land and making an long-term investment that will improve the city for decades to come. Now is the perfect time, they reason, to continue to build amenities that will encourage healthy, vibrant communities.Every person I’ve met is doing community development and every person I’ve met is doing policy work. The power of these cities, of these mid-size cities and of being energetic is that you don’t stay in your box—you do, and you can, and you have to, do everything. We’ve seen that in every person we’ve spoken to and that is powerful.

Our last visit of the day was with Kirk Mayes of the Skillman Foundation‘s Good Neighborhoods program who works in the Brightmoor Neighborhood. Because of a great scheduling mix up, we were able to sit in on an awards ceremony at a local charter school. Meeting the school’s superintendent, he took us on a tour of the building—a rehabilitated factory—and discussed the new programs the school has in place that students would normally not have access to. After a couple of Motown favorites performed by 3rd through 5th graders from the school we had an impromptu tour with John O’Brien, executive director of Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development, who drove us around the amazing Brightmoor neighborhood.

John, his organization, and the other community groups in the Brightmoor Alliance are actively engaging in the planning of their neighborhood. Through their own initiatives, they are imagining and actualizing alternative designs for their area—they are not waiting for the city to solve their challenges for them. Like many neighborhoods, Brightmoor had varying levels of disinvestment: from entire block with weeds and burnt out buildings, followed by a block that was well occupied. They also have an enormous, abandoned park that has healthy top soil.

They have partnered with University of Michigan and Greening Detroit to develop the park as large scale urban agriculture, have closed of streets to cut down on less desirable traffic, have and will continue to demolish dangerous properties, have assembled land for development, may eventually develop commercial or retail in an area currently zoned residential, and much, much more. In a city where there the political leadership has undergone so much transition, there is room for entities outside of the government to really act on community vision and needs. Planners talk about this; the Brightmoor Alliance is doing it.

The innovative efforts of all of these organizations have not gone unnoticed—people have begun seeking out the expertise of these neighborhood groups in new ways and tying them into higher level decision making processes. It’s invigorating for an urban planning student who wonders about the split between community development and policy work that there is very little separation.

Every person I’ve met is doing community development and every person I’ve met is doing policy work. The power of these cities, of these mid-size cities and of being energetic is that you don’t stay in your box—you do, and you can, and you have to, do everything. We’ve seen that in every person we’ve spoken to and that is powerful.

PHOTO GALLERY


RESOURCES

Detroit Collaborative Design Center

Southwest Detroit Business Association

Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan

Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development

Detroit Eastern Market

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Detroit […]

    Pingback by Rustbelt Road Trip! « rustbelt road trip 2009 — 09/08/2009 @ 9:10 am | Reply


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