For our third Challenge, Fellows had the opportunity to work within the Islandview neighborhood and partner with the Downtown Boxing Gym, a non-profit impacting youth, and families all throughout the Detroit community.

When you stand outside 6445 E. Vernor Hwy, you see a large gray building not too different from other buildings in Detroit. However, when you step into the gym between 3:30-7:00 pm, you find yourself in a different world. The first thing you notice are the two large colorful boxing rings highlighted in the center of the track. You see kids from the ages of seven to eighteen working out, chasing one another, and boxing. You hear the sound of running, jump roping, boxing gloves hitting the bag and instructions being given by coaches and mentors. Beyond all the activities, you see big smiles as kids engage with the activities and challenges set forth by the Downtown Boxing Gym staff.

The Downtown Boxing Gym is full of life and activities during its after school programming.

The mission of the Downtown Boxing Gym is to empower Detroit students to be positive and productive members of society through education, athletics, mentorship and intervention. “Books before boxing” is their motto, which according to Executive Director, Jessica Hauser, has resulted in 100% of their students graduating from high school and 98% continuing on to college.

“Books before boxing” is the heartbeat of the Downtown Boxing Gym

Our Challenge began with Fellows learning the history of the gym and spending time immersing themselves in the after school program where they met the kids and saw everything in action. Carolyn Geck, Development Director, shared that “boxing is most important and least important.” While boxing helps gets kids in the door, the goal of the gym is to help youth succeed academically. In addition to learning how to box, the Downtown Boxing Gym provides transportation, dinner, academic support, health and wellness activities, and extracurricular activities to its kids.

During the five-week Challenge, Fellows were divided into four teams and tasked with the design question “How might we activate the green space to further catalyze youth development at the Downtown Boxing Gym and engage with the surrounding community?” The gym’s building has been designed with thought and careful attention to fully maximize the space and provide adequate room for diverse programming. Instead of focusing on the gym’s indoor space, the Downtown Boxing Gym asked Challenge Detroit to spend time focusing on how to activate the outdoor green space that is adjacent to the building.

The Challenge Project focused on activating the green space adjacent to the building.

Using design thinking, each team focused on a different aspect for activating the green space from sustainability, seasonal programming that encompasses all four weather seasons, fostering community connection, and long-term future growth. The Challenge project was filled with hard work, community engagement, and teamwork amidst team members to provide site plans, budgets, and innovative ideas to extend the work taking place inside the gym to the outdoor space.

Our Challenge concluded with a community presentation at the Downtown Boxing Gym where Fellows shared about each team’s community engagement, proposed ideas, and potential impact. Recommendations for the green-space included the following:


  • Incorporating rain barrels, a french drain, and rain garden to alleviate water run-off which results in a lower drainage charge.
  • Designing the green-space to accommodate for a soccer field, pavilion and basketball court to provide flexible use of the space for athletic programming, extracurricular activities, and academic enrichment.
  • Building a multi-purpose mobile stage that could be used for local community events, theater productions, and athletic seating.
  • Securing three plots of land adjacent to the property to allow for the gym’s long-term growth and installing modified shipping containers that can serve as classroom space and/or small hubs for outdoor activities.

Following the presentation, attendees were encouraged to view each team’s site plan and follow up with questions. As this Challenge comes to a close, our hope is that the ideas proposed will positively impact the activation of Downtown Boxing Gym’s green-space, and ultimately all of the young lives that the gym serves.

Challenge Detroit Fellow, Gregory Hardy, explains the Long-Term Growth site plan to community presentation attendees.


This blog was written by current Fellows and Project Coordination Leads for this Challenge, Gabrial Taylor and Laura Winningham