Neighborhood heroes come in all sizes and statures. Sometimes it’s a resident who puts in a new fence. Other times it’s a whole neighborhood group committed to boarding up houses. They often go unrecognized.
Not in the Springwells Village neighborhood in Southwest Detroit. On October 21 the Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI) annual showcase and fundraiser, Heroes of the Neighborhood, will honor a host of organizations, volunteers, program graduates, and supporters. The event runs from 6-9 pm at the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority’s sparkling-new dock on the Detroit River.
The food served at the event will all be from local vendors and will literally give you a taste of the diversity found in Springwell Village. Beirut Kabob will serve Middle Eastern cuisine and La Terraza will be serving Mexican seafood. Live musical entertainment will be provided during the strolling dinner and valet service is complimentary with your ticket.
Springwells Village is an interesting place. If you didn’t work, live, or grow up there, you might just pass on by. But for such a small area, there’s enough going on to capture anyone’s attention. Springwells Village isn’t actually Mexicantown. It’s a diverse and growing community that sits between Mexicantown and Dearborn … and is a vibrant meeting ground for these neighboring cultures.
It’s in these cultural crossroads that the Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI) make Springwells Village its primary focus. But while the area it works in is focused, its revitalization programs run the gamut from youth development to adult education to community development. It’s all here.
“It’s one of the most viable corridors for business opportunity,” says Kate Solis, an Americorps member recently placed with the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.
“We have dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs already,” UNI’s Tiffany Tononi adds.
“We believe in the community and that they’ll recognize their own issues and find solutions. We’re just here to give it extra professional attention,” she explains. “Maybe they’re working or raising kids and don’t have the time to research zoning ordnances. That’s where we help out.”
A Head Start preschool program found its home in their community center, a former Lithuanian Catholic Church. There you can also find a public computer lab and a bike garage where children from the community come to learn bicycle mechanics and earn bikes of their own by fixing them piece-by-piece.
Across the way is the Springdale Green Play Lot. “This used to be vacant lots and a drug house,” Tononi candidly says. Now there’s a playscape, open space for sports, a pavilion for picnics, and a track running the outside, giving residents a beautiful and safe place to exercise. UNI’s work was also key in revitalizing two other parks in the neighborhood, Lafayette and Weiss.
Most striking perhaps are the murals painted around the neighborhood. “They’re part of the Southwest Arts Mural and Apprenticeship program,” Tononi says. “We hire the artists to come in but the students help design the murals.”
UNI has also partnered with other organizations of broader scope to accomplish its goals. Most recently it collaborated with the Greening of Detroit. A number of trees have already been planted around the neighborhood, but another day of tree planting is planned for this fall.
This progress hasn’t gone unnoticed. Detroit LISC (Local Initiatives Support Coalition) named Springwells Village as one of 3 sustainable communities on the upswing in the city.
For more information on the Urban Neighborhood Initiatives or to RSVP to the Heroes for Neighborhoods event, visit http://www.unidetroit.org/.
Photo credit: Karpov the Wrecked Train