3 Lessons I learned while covering Detroit's Resilient Neighborhoods during the pandemic

Over the last year, I've had the opportunity to learn first-hand about the strength and determination of communities across the city of Detroit in my role as the project editor of Model D's Resilient Neighborhoods series. 

The reporting and engagement project has been looking at the work going on in neighborhoods across the city connected to a group of 21 community development organizations (CDOs) receiving support from the Kresge Foundation. In addition to producing stories about what's happening in these neighborhoods, Model D also sponsored several Community Correspondent workshops as part of the series. They were taught by Model D editor-at-large Biba Adams and aimed at helping local residents report on their communities as citizen journalists.  

Working on the series, which started just a few months into the global COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been an eye-opening experience for me. Despite all the hardships and confusion of the last year or so, Detroiters have persevered and remain committed to their neighborhoods and their city. Here are three lessons I learned while covering Detroit communities in 2020 and 2021 that drove home that point. 

Future home of Congress of Community's new youth center
1) Community remains an essential force in the city. 

While the pandemic definitely made it more difficult for people to see one another face-to-face, it certainly has never diminished the importance of community relationships in the Motor City. For community development organizations, keeping in touch with residents has certainly remained as critical as ever. Fortunately, CDOs like Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and MACC Development have been up to the task, holding online townhall meetings and engaging in safety-minded canvassing efforts to stay connected with community residents. And things are looking up for young people in Southwest Detroit, with the development of two new youth-centered community spaces by Congress of Communities and Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. Beyond that, smaller neighborhood groups, from the Euclid Block Club to the North Rosedale Park Civic Association, have been doing their best to keep neighbors in the loop with newsletters, email blasts and outdoor WiFi stations. As the city slowly emerges from quarantine conditions, I'm hopeful these community bonds will strengthen even more again as in-person gatherings begin to resume.    

La Palapa del Parian

2) Detroit businesses are tenacious.

While adapting to the challenges of the coronavirus certainly hasn't been an easy task, Detroit businesses from neighborhoods around the city have worked hard to find new ways to operate during the pandemic, often with the help of local CDOs. On the east side, the Villages CDC raised roughly $12,000 to help struggling businesses cover rent.  

Meanwhile, in the city's southwest corner, the owners of  La Palapa del Parian opened up their new restaurant with some help from the Southwest Detroit Business Association. Faced with limits to indoor seating, they set up several ornate wooden booths where diners could enjoy their meals in a pleasant outdoor environment. And with logistical assistance from the Osborn Business Association, the Above and Beyond Learning Center revamped its daycare facilities to meet the needs of social distancing. With summer here and the economy beginning to rebound, I'm optimistic that local businesses will once again have a more stable environment to grow and thrive.

ECN's Hamilton Rainscape Learning Lab

3) Innovation continues during the pandemic.

Detroit's always been full of people skilled at finding new ways of doing things while working under less than ideal conditions. Resilient Neighborhoods highlighted several examples of this, including efforts by the Eastside Community Network and Bailey Park Project to bring climate resiliency hubs to the city's east side and the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation plans to launch an outdoor market to support local and people-of-color-owned businesses in Corktown. While the world has changed, Detroiters ability to remain on the cutting edge remains intact, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what our city's innovators think of next.

Thanks for taking a moment to look back at Resilient Neighborhoods coverage over the last year. As we kick off a new year of stories, I'm excited to be able to bring you more stories about the promising things happening in Detroit neighborhoods. I hope you all have a great summer. You'll be hearing more from myself and our other Resilient Neighborhoods writers again very soon!   

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.

Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.
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