Harvesting the Positive Potential of Detroit

Project for Public Spaces
Sarah Goodyear

On the streets of Central Detroit, a sense of place — and possibility — isn’t always easy to come by.
PPS knew that engaging the neighborhood in Placemaking would take more than just a workshop. So, with the support of the Kresge Foundation and working with the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation (CDC), we decided to do a fun harvest festival that would demonstrate the neighborhood’s potential. It would also be a way to get more Placemaking ideas from people who would be unlikely to show up a community meeting.

And it worked. On October 29, PPS was thrilled to be part of a very successful harvest festival outside the wonderful neighborhood produce market Peaches & Greens, which is celebrating its third anniversary. Although flanked by vacant lots, Peaches & Greens proved to be the right spot for the festival — and the event showed how this could evolve into an even better place for the neighborhood to come together.

(Check out this great CBS News report about Peaches & Greens’ truck delivery service, which brings produce to the doorsteps of Detroiters who otherwise would have no access to fresh food.)

The rain held off and it turned out to be a great day, filled with games, horse-drawn hay rides, marshmallow roasting, and lots of Placemaking suggestions offered in PPS’s “Placemaking in Detroit” tent.

This is a neighborhood with a lot of basic needs. Many residents are out of work. Many don’t own cars, and the public transit system is utterly inadequate. Safety and security are a major concern — the city can’t even keep up with repairing broken streetlights. A lot of houses are abandoned and occupied by squatters.

The term “food desert” has become well known, but this part of Detroit might also be called a “place desert.” As the city’s population has shrunk, neighborhoods like Central Detroit have lost not just people and homes, but places to come together. Still, a lot of assets remain, including some beautiful housing stock and strong community organizations such as CDC. Importantly, the city has designated this as one of the communities where resources are going to be focused in the future.

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