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Transforming Detroit involves everyone

By Sandra Turner-Handy
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Another year has passed and my city continues to suffer. Several notable successes, however, buoy my spirit and give me hope for the future. ! The Urban Agriculture Ordinance was passed, the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework was released, and the Detroit Environmental Agenda was completed. These accomplishments show we are on the right track.

Downtown Detroit

Downtown Detroit

The collaborations around these initiatives have been astounding. The numbers of people who have come together to reclaim and raise the quality of life in Detroit — residents, suits-and-ties, activists, non-profits and in some cases local government — have been staggering.  It also has created camaraderie among many who have been on opposite sides of the table. These collaborations move our city forward in its transformation into a healthy, clean and safe place to live, work, play and most importantly raise our families.

The Urban Agriculture Ordinance is designed to bring uniformity around the growth of urban farming in the city. The importance of this ordinance far surpasses the zoning it provides, because it addresses the lack of access to healthy produce within the city. This is a city where fast food restaurants and liquor stores dot every other corner — a city where obesity rates have more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents. The gallant efforts of many to provide nutritious options within the city, while putting vacant land back into productive use, provides a foundation for change. The ordinance signifies health of residents is a priority as our city transforms.

The Detroit Future City Strategic Framework provides recommendations to stabilize and transform Detroit into the world class city it can once again become. The framework recommends changes in economic, city systems and environment, land use, public land and buildings, neighborhoods, and civic engagement based on the typologies of communities. Many times I speak of the depopulation of my neighborhood resulting in dangerous and vacant structures as far as the eye can see. The framework has allowed me to realize my neighborhood and thus my city may never look the way it once did, but can be developed to raise the quality of life for those of us still here and those yet to come.

The Detroit Environmental Agenda brings awareness of the various environmental issues within the City of Detroit, along with recommendations on how to improve living conditions. The agenda looks at clean air, water, energy, solid waste, healthy land, housing and neighborhoods, along with active transportation and community benefits. The recommendations call for implementation of the green initiatives, sustainable technology (i.e. environmental mandates) within the city charter. However, lack of funding in our financially troubled city has put implementation on the back burner. The agenda also recommends creation of a city of Detroit Office of Sustainability. This recommendation will bring about green initiatives from the top that will initiate all the other environmental recommendations within the agenda.

As the New Year gets underway we should remember as the city transforms there are six fundamental tools we should use: communication, education, involvement, participation, facilitation and support. These are necessary to move our successes forward and further our collaborative spirit.

Communication allows for the building of mutual trust, respect and commitment to change. Education lowers resistance to the change by providing the processes to unlearn old habits and learn new ones, while reinforcing the truth that people are our greatest assets. Involvement of all stakeholders allows for inclusion of various perspectives and ideas related to improving the city. Participation involves engaging residents and others by reinvigorating their power to plan, develop and implement change initiatives. Facilitation during transformation involves development of processes that reduce fear and anxiety related to change and support a smooth transition through transformation. Support of stakeholders during change involves investments of resources including time, energy, knowledge and finances that allow for achievement of initiatives.

Each of the recent successes involved engagement and collaboration of various stakeholders who depend on the city of Detroit as a healthy, clean and safe place to live, work, play and raise our families. As we continue to transform the city we should realize the hard work ahead will be made easier through the collaboration of residents, suits-and-ties, activists, non-profits and others whose love for and commitment to the city of Detroit makes them the change agents that will transform us into the world class city we know it to be.

Sandra Turner-Handy is the community outreach director for the Michigan Environmental Council and a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.

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