Throughout Detroit block clubs, community groups, churches and businesses are digging into the earth and planting flowers to beautify their corner of the universe. Keep Detroit Beautiful, an educational arm of the city, will distribute free flowers to help those neighborhoods bloom.
“When we are out planting people honk their horns, wave and stop their cars to thank us for making the boulevards look beautiful,” says Deborah J. Bevelle, president of the West Outer Drive Block Club and a 33-year resident of the neighborhood near Six Mile and Outer Drive.
For 11 consecutive years Keep Detroit Beautiful has handed out flowers in spring and passed out awards in fall when the most avid community gardeners and groups receive wheelbarrows, weed whackers and other tools. Groups agree to help beautify their neighborhoods on Earth Day in late April, Motor City Makeover on weekends in May, Beautification Day the first Saturday in June, and Arise Detroit Day the first Saturday in August.
On May 18, Keep Detroit Beautiful will have flats of flowers and plants to donate to registered community groups, acquired from various donor organizations. With these flats, magic occurs.
Deborah Bevelle and her husband Irving Bevelle are planted firmly in their neighborhood and would be outdoors planting, watering and weeding with or without help from the city of Detroit.
“We started getting active when the streetlights stopped working,” she says. “We went door to door in our 125-home community asking what people wanted, and most wanted to free up litter and make it look prettier.”
“Neighborhoods feel safer when everything looks clean and fresh,” she adds. “Flowers add to the pride people feel in their community.”
Cassandra Williams of the Pinehurst Community Block Club near Meyers and Grand River agrees.
“On flower day we give out flowers, window boxes, garden tools and whatever we can pull together to make a neighborhood,” she says. “I’m a serious bargain shopper. I hit the dollar sales and the dollar racks at Lowes and Home Depot. These plants may not look so good, put them in the ground, water them and they look beautiful.”
Throughout Detroit members of block clubs form bucket brigades. First they plant flowers in vacant lots and boulevards, stuff that requires little water, then fill up buckets from the home of the nearest club member. Their work is uplifting, especially for enthusiastic gardeners.
“We might not be able to buy an empty four-bedroom house, but we can remove the weeds, water the flowers and cut the grass in front of abandoned homes,” Williams says.
She believes her group has averted the problem of empty homes by making the boulevards and lawns looking more inviting.
Angela Ireland, director of Keep Detroit Beautiful, a division of the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority, says her group cultivates enthusiastic block clubs because community engagement is the best hope for Detroit’s sustained vitality.
“You drive past these active neighborhoods and it looks so welcoming you are proud to be a part of this effort,” she says.
The first place winner for Keep Detroit Beautiful last year was the 15th Street Block Club. The 18000 Greely Block Club received a $10,000 grant from Lowes for a safety, well-being and beautification project and other groups received honorable mention, including the West Outer Drive and Pinehurst Community.
Echoing the words of the fabled urban planner Jane Jacobs, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
To receive free flowers, you must be part of a registered block club, community group, business or organization. The give-away is from 6 to 7 p.m. May 18 at the Michigan State University office in Detroit, 3408 Woodward. Call (313) 876-0140 for more information.