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RecoveryPark: A plan to help the real Detroit

By Ron Markoe

While it is certainly encouraging to see the robust development activity underway in Downtown Detroit and Midtown by Dan Gilbert and others, most Detroiters realize our city’s real resurrection lies with finding adequate employment not just for the educated middle-class population, but also finding a way to employ those individuals who are facing overwhelming barriers, such as a criminal record and substance abuse.

Over 20 percent of the 15,000 individuals released from Michigan prisons each year return to the city. I am guilty of believing that as more and more of the prison population is released back into our community with no means of legal income, the likelihood is great that they will be left with little alternative but to commit more crime, thereby, undermining our attempts as a city to achieve any level of peace and tranquility. Detroit will never be safe, nor in a position to develop a strong tax base, until we provide opportunities for as many people as we can. Surprisingly, as obvious as that statement may seem, I have heard very little discussion centered around this subject in any recent political forum. Perhaps it’s because the problem of hiring ex-offenders seems so daunting when the economy has shut out so many qualified people without a prison record, or maybe the concern is just not there for many people who may have no answers.

I am fortunate to have met a man who has a solution to that problem. His name is Gary Wozniak, and he is spearheading RecoveryPark, an urban agriculture initiative that will entail not only growing produce in Detroit, but the more lucrative aspects of processing and distribution as well. It will also include the development of aquaculture to grow fish indoors. Gary not only intends to create numerous jobs, he wants to focus on providing opportunities for ex-offenders and substance abusers. At a time when all we seem to hear about are cuts in employment, he is a rare person who talks about growth and opportunities for unskilled, challenged workers in Detroit. Gary has worked with SHAR (Self-Help Addiction Rehabilitation), an organization founded in 1969, which provides self-help addiction rehabilitation and other behavioral health services consistent with the needs of the individual. I have witnessed him interacting with the clients and was surprised to see their positive demeanor as they provided assistance at some of the community meetings that were held to discuss the project.

According to their Web site (RecoveryPark.org): “RecoveryPark is far more than urban agriculture and job opportunities. It will become the anchor for a larger development that will not only include urban farms, but education and support centers, commercial and housing development and other ‘to be determined’ projects that will enhance the community as a whole. RecoveryPark is about empowering people to take control of their lives and to offer the resources necessary to do that long-term. It is about social justice to help people that society has deemed permanently lost so they can become the citizens that a community points to as active mentors to other struggling people.”

Completing RecoveryPark is Gary’s dream. From what I see, this is all he does in his waking hours. I marvel at his energy and dedication, as anyone would who has been in his company for any period of time. While many people have heard about John Hantz’s project next to Indian Village, many people in Detroit have not heard about the RecoveryPark Project. Gary, by no means a wealthy individual, is desperately trying to get the project funded. He recently scored a major victory when the city of Detroit, through the visionary leadership of Rob Anderson, director of the Planning and Development Department, along with Real Estate Development Manager James Marusich, agreed to support the project by issuing him a nine-month site control letter for large tracts of land in the city.

A project of this type is unprecedented in scope, and hopefully will set a national precedent for what has become a national problem.

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