I have never witnessed love for a place until I stepped onto Heidelberg Street on the east side of Detroit. Unlike its adjacent neighborhood, the Indian Villages, an affluent community with meticulously kept lawns and architectural masterpieces, Heidelberg Street had a different charm. The once-abandoned houses are painted with colorful polka dots, empty lots are filled with debris-sculptures, aged eastern cotton trees are dressed in painted-clock faces, and rusty benches are filled with stuffed animals. In a neighborhood struggling with blight, poverty, and crimes, this vibrant enclave is a magical oasis for the people who have called this place home for generations.
This is the Heidelberg Project, a two block open art installation created from salvaged items. Founded in 1986 by a long time resident of the east side of Detroit, Tyree Guyton, the Heidelberg Project brought together Detroit residents to transform the once deteriorating neighborhood into a vibrant community of energy and hope. Despite of over five arsons that sought to burn the Heidelberg Project down to its roots and city urban planning projects that bulldozed its artworks, it stands firmly today as a living display of an unbending love for a place, a love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres … a love that never fails.
Tyree Guyton is not standing alone. To the people here, Detroit’s recent bankruptcy is not a symbol of decline, but a pivot point. In face of a giant leviathan, thousands of people are coming forward with ideas - here, ideas spring forward like lichens after a wild fire. But people in Detroit don’t just talk about ideas; inspired by their historical industrial roots, they are eager to roll up their sleeves to build and to create. Even though I’ve only been in Detroit for one week, I can already feel the unbreakable belief that Detroiters share for their city to rise from the ashes.
This summer, I will be working on the SWOT City team at TechTown Detroit, a team that seeks to support small business owners in the neighborhoods of Detroit, with the goal of revitalizing those neighborhoods with one business at a time. For my project, I am working with Jimmy, a fellow DukeEngage participant, to develop a set of recommendations that will provide insight into how TechTown Detroit can accelerate neighborhood business development through acquiring commercial real estate. Although we are lucky to receive a concrete project, the scope of this project spans everything from gaining a thorough understanding of the neighborhoods by visiting local communities, to analyzing the most appropriate ownership model through researching best practices, to exploring different fundraising strategies by interviewing other organizations involved in similar works. This is undoubtedly a challenging project, but I am very excited to fully engage myself in the project and immerse myself in the city of Detroit.