“Be the change” – a view from an evening run through my neighborhood.

Tell us about where you live and what makes it unique?

I live in a neighborhood in Southwest Detroit called Hubbard Farms which is the area just south of the Mexicantown commercial corridor on Vernor. We are a tightknit community, to say the
least. One of the things that makes us unique is the splashes of color seen all around our neighborhood. From the flowering ginkgo trees to Xochimilco-inspired storefronts to the neon lights of pizzerias, our neighborhood is full of colorful people, places, and plants.

Your fellowship year just began, what are you most looking forward to in the coming

Challenge Detroit has already exposed so much to me about Detroit that I was not attuned to before. I have especially been impressed by the community development landscape that continues to endure the changing city without losing hope. I am excited to engage more with nonprofits that are tackling these problems and getting to engage with them in a meaningful way. As evidenced by DEGC and the Motor City Match program, there really is no plan too big. We fellows are also still learning about one another and I’ve been very impressed by the creativity and work ethic of those around me. I think solidifying these relationships and building trust over the course of the year will lead to some pretty amazing outcomes and I can’t wait to see what happens.

The first Challenge Detroit cultural event, sponsored by the Chamber Music Society, was a trip to see the Harlem Quartet, a string ensemble that plays a mixture of both jazz and classical repertoire

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

The Downtown Detroit Partnership is a nonprofit that focuses on advancing the entire city of Detroit through initiatives, programs, and development that benefit Downtown businesses, residents and visitors.

The DDP is the primary steward of public spaces Downtown, like parks, streets, and sidewalks.My job at the DDP is nested within the Downtown Business Improvement Zone (BIZ), which is a quasi-public entity that provides supplemental services to the Downtown over and above what the City already provides. Specifically, the BIZ’s work concerns the clean, safe and inviting aspects of the 1.1 square mile area within the Downtown freeways.

My role as a project manager relates to projects involving streetscape infrastructure, BIZ communications, community engagement, public space recycling, grant writing, and homelessness outreach.

What kind of impact do you hope to have with your host company and within the city?

Since my primary interests are surrounding social and environmental sustainability, many of my projects for the BIZ enable me to think of ways that public space can be used to influence a more sustainable ethos in Detroit, such as public rain gardens and recycling and engaging with the destitute that inhabit our Downtown.

Broadly, I hope that my work at DDP can incite new thinking around who the Downtown is for and how we can target our efforts to create bridges to the neighborhoods.

What are you most looking forward to in Detroit this year?

I love food. I am hoping to take the year to indulge in the various international cuisines that Detroit has to offer and hopefully replicate some of it in my own kitchen for all my new friends to taste! In my opinion, there are few better ways to bring people together than through the vulnerability of inviting others to one’s own kitchen.

How do you believe your fellowship will shape your career moving forward?

Our first design thinking challenge was to design a program for Open Streets 2017. My team – Matt, Elise, Monti, and Natasha – came up with a board of chicken wire that prompted Detroiters to reflect on why they love their city.

The fellowship has already challenged my own assumptions about the ideas I had for my career. While I see myself working for a municipality someday, I am also considering working in grassroots community development before making this move. I know that working closely with the people of Detroit, like many of the partner organizations, is critical to understanding the dynamics of the city.

While some view networking solely as an opportunity to advance one’s own career, Challenge Detroit necessitates networking with others in order to solve problems. With this in mind, networking has become much less daunting and I’m looking forward to making more solution-based connections.

To learn more about a few of Alana’s favorite Detroit experiences check out her spotlight video!