Change Agents, Giving Back, New Economy, News

Beating Josh Linkner to the punch: Where Detroit Love meets Detroit Data

Josh Linkner said during Techonomy that “we need to beat our chests more about what’s happening in Detroit.” Well, before he spoke those words on stage at Wayne State, it was already in motion. As Techonomy was ending the Transformation Detroit Media Briefing was beginning.

Sixty-plus media from a variety of traditional and non-traditional outlets were gathered to see Detroit — good, bad and everything in between.

The media from near and far saw everything from the gorgeous riverfront to blighted homes in parts of Brightmoor. Resurgence in Old Redford was led by John George, founder of Blight Busters, and a cadre of dedicated community members, who showed the media everything from farms built by the community itself to the site of a new 30,000-square- foot Meijer in the neighborhood.

Tom in Rosedale Park

Tom Godeeris in Rosedale Park

Folks like Tom Godeeris, executive director at Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp., and many others showed the pride of Rosedale Park and how they’ve worked with the Detroit Police Department to combat home invasions by coming together and shifting to reporting suspicious looking activity… not suspicious looking people … and rebuilding trust between the police and the population.

In Southwest we saw a tent full of doers from artists to restaurateurs to retailers to non-profits gathered for lunch and conversation. From there folks fanned out into the surrounding area. Everywhere they looked they found people making change, lot by lot, with a personal stake in what’s going on.

There isn’t enough room in a blog post to cover them all, but what are some key takeaways?

Blightbusters taking back their neighborhood

1) There’s an answer to people who say “Detroit’s too big to do anything about.” The solution rests in breaking this vast city into manageable chunks. For instance, the Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood at 2.4 square miles is about the same size as Walled Lake or Hamtramck. By focusing efforts on a neighborhood at the block by block level, it becomes a reasonable task and community bonds can be made as well as a personal sense of accomplishment can be had.

2) We have to accept that some areas aren’t going to see change for 10 or more years, and that’s okay as long as there are options for the people who live there to move up. Brightmoor has an innovative program where they relocated a gentleman to a better home in a better more inhabited area as well as paid for his old home.

It doesn’t make sense to deliver garbage and city services to the one occupied house on a block. It also doesn’t make sense to forcibly relocate people who have been living in their homes, in many cases, their whole lives. To complicate matters even more, some of these places were the first property their family ever owned. It’s important they’re treated fairly and with the respect. What gives this effort a chance is that it’s a bottom up initiative with community support.

Dennis Nordmoe, Ph.D

3) Detroit is about love. Yes, that’s cheesy, but it describes what I heard when I sat across from the Director of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI) Dennis Nordmoe. This well-dressed older gentleman with a full head of grey hair lit up as if he were a 10-year-old who just a hit a Little League home run when telling how a homeless person pushing a cart said to him, “Dennis, you keep keeping up the neighborhood!” The fact people don’t use last names with him is more than encouraging, it makes you want to hug the guy.

4) The resentment some have of Downtown is short-sighted. Greater Downtown is an economic engine that already beat the expectations of job growth for the entire city in 10 years all by itself in two years. The business community and private community dollars have come together with plans and actual money on the table.

With incentive programs for new residents to picking up city services that have been left wanting such as cleaning up trash on the streets, the Downtown Detroit Partnership with its Clean Downtown program is freeing up resources for the rest of the city. They hire people in partnership with Goodwill Industries who want to improve their lives and pick up 2.5 tons of trash. Every. Single. Day.

Dan Kinkade, Detroit Works

Dan Kinkade, Detroit Works

5) Detroit Works, especially Detroit Long Term, has a shot at working. Although there is some valid criticism by some that it needs to reach more people, they do a pretty good job considering the limited resources and the fact that mainstream promotional efforts require serious money. Even if they come up short in the end, they’re getting tens of thousands of people involved where they weren’t before.

Dan Kinkade of Detroit Works had a plethora of stats and infographics they were willing to share instead of keeping it all under lock and key for the chosen few. Did you know that 15% of firms in Detroit are owned by African-Americans? Or that 39% of Detroit residents work inside the city boundaries? That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but data is required to come up with real solutions to move forward. The concept of data-driven decisions was brought up against and again at Techonomy. Well, Detroit Long Term (and another group called Data Driven Detroit) has a lot of it. Just go get it.

Avalon Breads has built a business from almost nothing to 50 locally hired employees and is about to embark on a $1.9 million business expansion.

Jeff Klein

Jeff Klein of Detroit Farm and Garden

6) Lots of people are making a difference. Mercury Burger Bar’s business? “Each week is doing better than the last,” says the owner David Stiekne. Dabls is chasing out crime with his African Bead Museum and shop on Grand River. The business community is championing a vision of a connected greater downtown with M1 Rail streetcars as part of a regional transit system. Tom Godeeris has built a non-profit Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp. in the neighborhood he was born in that is literally stabilizing the area. Kirk Mayes is slowly erasing the derisive handle of “Blightmore” and returning it to “Brightmoor” block by block. There are many more we will focus on in future  blogs.

One of the threads of conversation during this year’s Transformation Detroit Media Briefing was “what makes it different this time?” From my view it’s the people who are doing big things in their neighborhoods that will turn into big things for Detroit. Small is the new big.

The only question left is: What will you build?

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Photo credits: Nick Hagen, Nick Hagen Photography

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