This blog was written by  project coordination leads and current fellows, Kelsey Stein and Michael Paciero. 


Challenge Detroit Fellows spent the past five weeks working on a variety of projects in and around the Chene-Ferry district, with the goal of sustaining and building-upon previous efforts spearheaded by RecoveryPark to collectively add to community aesthetics, security and economic development. The primary aim of this project was focused on strategy and design in relation to economic development initiatives slated for both implementation and build-out within the next six months.

Similar to prior Challenges, the project kicked off with Fellows spending a day engaged in historical context, learning about the rich history of the Chene-Ferry district as well as its current state. For example, the neighborhood once proudly employed people in over 100,000 jobs and had a population to match. Diversely represented with individuals from various backgrounds and education levels, the neighborhood encompassed every socioeconomic demographic and was well known for its Poletown community, a throng of Jewish and Polish immigrants who worked and lived alongside a prominent African American community. Unfortunately, as with many other vibrant Detroit neighborhoods, the sudden and progressive departure of people and jobs left the once-thriving community in dire condition.

IMG_1784In addition to learning about the neighborhood’s history, Fellows took in the sights and sounds of the Raven Lounge, “the oldest blues bar in Detroit.” Located on the corner of Chene and Farnsworth, the bar has served as an anchor business for the area for over 50 years. Nearby, relative newcomer RecoveryPark owns over 100 acres of property in Poletown. As a vital business and community partner, RecoveryPark is committed to repurposing a majority of this land into a thriving urban farming initiative through the hiring of locals, primarily those who face significant obstacles to employment.

Fellows were split into five groups, each focused on a unique design challenge question that addressed economic development and neighborhood revitalization in various ways. Each team was given a set of deliverables to be provided to stakeholders by the end of the project. Teams spent the subsequent five weeks ideating, prototyping and testing designs with the goal of achieving the best possible outcome given their respective constraints:

  1. IMG_20160601_192924975 Small Business Association Strategy Team – Assessed both the needs and optimal supportive approach for new and existing businesses in the area
  1. Bus Stop Design Team – Utilized low budget/recycled or salvaged materials to improve neighborhood bus-rider experience by designing bus shelters with a $1000 budget
  1. Community Farm Equipment/Shed Strategy Team – Worked with stakeholders to develop an actionable and viable usage plan for donated farm equipment
  1. IMG_3590Community Garden Design team – Designed a community garden layout (10-12 beds) with corresponding expansion plans to be implemented within the next 6-12 months
  1. Chene-Ferry Market Shed Adaptive Re-Use team – Developed adaptive uses for the Chene-Ferry Market Shed as well as a three phase development plan for its rehabilitation and renovation

Together, the teams collaborated with RecoveryPark, local businesses, farmers and community members to translate innovative ideas into progressive and sustainable improvement of the Chene-Ferry neighborhood. Through this collaboration, the challenge project was completed with the intent of concentrating on small incremental changes that collectively contributes to greater prosperity in the Chene-Ferry Neighborhood.

Next Step:

IMG_0405On June 29th,  veterans and other supporters will volunteer for Operation Motown Muster, coordinated by The Mission Continues and in collaboration with RecoveryPark, to build additional garden beds and 3-4 additional bus stops using Challenge Detroit designs. Elsewhere in the Chene-Ferry neighborhood, RecoveryPark will continue to utilize Challenge Detroit insights and ideas to further support the community.