On the Ground: Curbside economics in Brightmoor

After spending three months reporting from the Osborn neighborhood on Detroit's Northeast side, our series "On the Ground" is headed west to Brightmoor, a neighborhood where residents are addressing challenges and seizing opportunities to transform the place they live into a center of neighborhood innovation.

We kicked things off last Monday at the Brightmoor Community Center with a meeting of neighborhood leaders convened by the the Brightmoor Alliance. Over a couple of bags of sliders from Sonny's, a classic hamburger castle on the corner of Evergreen and Schoolcraft roads, we quickly found that there will be no shortage of stories of innovation in Brightmoor to report on over the next three months.

We heard from the likes of Bart Eddy, founder and community liaison at the Detroit Community Schools, who told us about the schools' unique approach to education that has led to one of Detroit's premier opportunities for students to learn about entrepreneurship and craftsmanship.

We visited the school later in the week to learn more and saw the workshops where the student-run Brightmoor Woodworkers hand chisel and shape the beautiful customized wooden signs that they sell to individuals and groups around the city. Bart also showed us the 3,200 square foot garage where they are about to launch a fundraising campaign that will transform the space into the Bagley Quad Shop, an incubator for what Bart Eddy calls "curbside economics and entrepreneurship" for students in the community. Keep following On the Ground for updates on this project. There's lots more to come.

We heard about the Brightmoor Alliance's recent awarding of a Knight Arts Challenge grant of $50,000 to revitalize open spaces (totalling over 500 lots) recently cleared by the Detroit Blight Authority through art installations on the land. This Wednesday, a group of local artists, including Chazz Miller, the creative force behind Old Redford's Artist Village, will present their ideas for the area to be voted on by residents.

"We've tasked the artists with giving us a 'wow' factor," says Joe Rashid, community engagement specialist at the Brightmoor Alliance. The community has already secured $125,000 from DTE Energy in matching and additional funds for this project. Again, more on this to come.

We heard from Rev. Dennis Talbert, through whose leadership the Brightmoor Community Center has transformed into a holistic one-stop center for residents' needs--providing everything from programs related to health and wellness to arts education for youth. When we met Rev. Talbert through a piece we ran in our "Detroit by District" series this spring, he told me he would name the butterfly habitat pocket park after me if I donated $10,000. As it turns out, he found somebody with deeper pockets -- AAA -- and secured funding for the park that is adjacent to the Community Center.

Ora Williams, a Brightmoor resident for the last 35 years and a dedicated community development advocate, told us about the myriad of efforts she is involved in throughout the community, such as the Angel Tree program, which pairs volunteers with the children of incarcerated persons from Brightmoor to help children maintain relationships with their parents, as well as the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program, which provides resources to elderly folks raising kids in the neighborhood.

"I've seen Brightmoor go up and down," says Williams. "It was up when I came here 35 years ago, and I'm seeing it go back up again."

We rounded out the week in Brightmoor this Saturday by attending the annual Brightmoor Harvest Festival on the Brightmoor Farmway, put on by Neighbors Building Brightmoor, "a group of neighbors dedicated to mobilizing, equipping, and helping each other to create a beautiful, healthy and sustainable community for ourselves and our children."

The scene was idyllic amid the rolling topography of Northwest Detroit and the verdure of the neighborhood. It was easy to forget you were within the limits of Michigan's largest city and not in a pastoral hamlet up north. Children and their parents played games, shared food, and pressed fresh apple cider from locally grown apples. Younger kids hopped on a hay wagon pulled by two horses for rides around the block.

The Brightmoor Alliance was present to collect community input into their ongoing "Restore the 'Moor" planning process for the neighborhood, a process we will continue to follow over the course of On the Ground and beyond.

If this week is a true barometer of things to come, we will be very busy in Brightmoor. Exactly how we like it.

Matthew Lewis is project editor for the On the Ground series, which shifts its focus from Osborn to Brightmoor.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Matthew Lewis.

Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative.