Tell us about your personal history and what drew you to apply to Challenge Detroit.

ALANA — When I applied for Challenge Detroit, I had recently graduated from University of Michigan with a master’s in urban planning. I didn’t have plans to stay in Michigan, but I also didn’t have plans at all. Challenge Detroit seemed to be a great way to learn about Detroit’s past and present from an urban planning perspective, because the program focuses so much on neighborhood development and supports the organizations working in that space, so I decided to apply. I am so grateful that I did, because I was exposed to the many facets that make Detroit a complicated and beautiful place to be an urban planner. Everything that I learned throughout my Challenge year contributed to the work I do today and how I go about it.

Alana and Meg at the holiday tree in Downtown Detroit’s Campus Martius Park.

MEG — Throughout my life, I’ve lived in eight different places and I was very excited to move to Detroit in 2017 as the start of a new chapter. I graduated from Trinity College, a small liberal arts school in Hartford, Connecticut, with a master’s in public policy just before my fellowship year. During graduate school, I wrote my final research project about the 20-minute neighborhood concept in Detroit because I was very interested in the history, culture, and urban landscape of the city. Challenge Detroit offered the opportunity to meet and collaborate with like-minded people, learn more about the city, and explore a new and exciting career path.

You were Challenge Detroit Fellows in our sixth year, please share highlights of your fellowship year such as a favorite project or experience.

MEG AND ALANA — During our Challenge year, we had a lot of personal and professional development opportunities and had the opportunity to get to know ourselves and each other well. One of these opportunities was a half-day workshop with Lauren Hood, a founder of Deep Dive Detroit who facilitates much-needed local race and equity conversations. She led a conversation for our entire cohort where we did an exercise to learn more about our relative privilege and served as a starting point for some uncomfortable, direct, and extremely important dialogue. This urged us to acknowledge our privilege and our power and to be intentional about how we enter spaces both in our five Challenges, and our daily personal and professional lives in Detroit. This experience resonates with both of us today and continues to inform our work at the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

Share about your roles at Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) and how your participation in Challenge Detroit made an impact in your work.

ALANA — I am the Urban Innovation Manager at DDP, so I manage all public space urban planning efforts undertaken by the organization, as well as identify opportunities for the organization to innovate and add value to stakeholders. DDP was my host company during my Challenge year and provided me the skills that have been incredibly important to the role I have now which requires continuous creativity, good project management, and constant engagement with and listening to the community.

MEG — I currently serve as a Public Space Manager at DDP. I help to program and operate the six public spaces downtown. My year at Challenge Detroit, serving as a fellow at DTE Energy, truly served as a stepping stone for me to move onto this current position. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to work at DTE and now spend the majority of my time collaborating with DTE to activate Beacon Park.

Alana and Meg at one of the DDP’s activated public spaces in Downtown Detroit.

MEG AND ALANA — Three elements of Challenge Detroit, in particular, impact our work for DDP:

1) Design Thinking: Experience with this process has been incredibly useful in project development and design.

2) Community Engagement: Community engagement that we did in each Challenge project taught us the importance of listening and meeting people where they are in order to identify their needs.

3) Team Work: DDP is a very collaborative nonprofit and through our time at Challenge Detroit, we learned how to partner with other people that have different work styles. The team dynamics and skills that we learned also strengthened our project management, delegation, organizational and accountability skills.

How do you hope to continue engaging in moving Detroit forward?

MEG AND ALANA — We are fortunate to have built community in our lives here, especially since neither of us are from Michigan originally. While our process of listening and learning is ongoing, we are now at the stage where we are more active in our communities and feel at home.