A recent addition to the Detroit revitalization scene is the abundance of “fellows” that seek to spur the city’s redevelopment momentum. A number of fellowship programs aim to attract young professionals to Detroit and leverage their energy and professional capacity to support existing programs and initiate new projects. The most well known, Wayne State University's Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program (DRFP) offers a two-year fellowship with host organizations focusing on economic and business development. Modeled after the New Orleans-based Rockefeller Foundation Redevelopment Fellowship, which gave post-Katrina planning a boost in the Big Easy, the DRFP currently employs 29 fellows and will soon announce its second cohort.
Challenge Detroit is a one-year fellowship opportunity that aims to attract and retain young talent, offering opportunities to “live, work, play and give” in Detroit and hosting fellows within Metro Detroit-based businesses. Challenge Detroit also has 29 fellows in its inaugural class. The second cohort will begin in fall 2013. Detroit is further benefiting from the work of four fellows with the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Fellowship Program, administered by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. With a focus on public service, this fellowship places mid-career professionals in pilot cities for two years. The first round of Detroit fellows began work in fall 2012. Additional fellows in this city include Kresge Artist Fellows, and Starting Bloc will be minting a new batch of fellows-at-large in August 2013.
Additionally, this blogger is in her second of three years as an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture. Though unique in Detroit, I am part of a robust national network of emerging architects at work in community development organizations. The Rose Fellowship is run by Enterprise Community Partners and contributes design capacity to community and affordable housing development nationwide.
All of these fellows are effectively amplifying the good work in their fields and host organizations, with the support of major funders and redevelopment organizations throughout the city and region. But perhaps the most distinct benefit of the fellows—which the DRFP makes explicit—is the potential for fellows to instigate collaboration across the city, both between fellow organizations and across fellowships. One such collaboration among the Detroit Revitalization Fellows, in partnership with the Greening of Detroit and Michigan Community Resources, is Patch Detroit. First implemented in June 2013, the Patch Detroit Dirty Lot Clean Up Contest offers a cash prize for the best vacant lot cleanup project in Detroit, Hamtramck, or Highland Park.
Similarly, a new round of attention and investment on Detroit’s Livernois Avenue is in part a product of collaboration between at least four different fellowships in the city. The Livernois Community Storefront is a project spearheaded by the DCDC’s Impact Detroit initiative. The project activates a vacant storefront as a pop-up community space, providing much-needed public space in a recovering commercial corridor.
As a DCDC Project Manager and Rose Fellow, I am facilitating the Storefront project, in close collaboration with both Challenge Detroit and DRFP’s Michael Forsyth, the fearless leader of Revolve Detroit, an initiative of the Detroit Economic Development Corporation. Challenge Detroit fellows spent February 2013 volunteering their time and expertise to propel the project and Revolve Detroit will ultimately turnover the storefront as part of its neighborhood retail development program. Furthermore, SC2 fellows have joined the mix, offering support as municipal liaisons for Livernois Avenue community concerns.
Patch Detroit and the Livernois Community Storefront are just two examples of how the many fellows in Detroit are contributing new energy to the city’s redevelopment efforts. This energy coincides with an essential willingness to work together – sometimes unconventionally and always creatively – to realize programs and projects for the betterment of the city.
Ceara O’Leary is an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center. In this series of blogs, Ceara shares her perspective as a community development professional and relatively recent Detroiter.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.
Top: Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Left: Patch Detroit