For our fifth challenge of the 2020-2021 program year, teams of Fellows selected nonprofits to work with that they are passionate about. Utilizing skills developed throughout the fellowship, they co-designed these project collaborations with their nonprofit partner organization. Fellows Dorothy Smith, Dominick Lemonious, Jackquelyn Garrett, Paige O’Riordan, and Vanessa Vela partnered with nonprofit East Warren Development Corp. with Executive Director Joe Rashid and Market Manager Brie’Ann Holmes Bell. Learn more about the collaboration below.

As our Challenge Detroit fellowship journey comes to an end, we are taking a moment to reflect and look forward. As Fellows, we were tasked with learning how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while being the first completely virtual cohort. Thanks to the intentional leadership of the Challenge Detroit staff, virtual did not mean that the experience was any less engaging. For our fifth and final project we finally had the chance to shape a project on our own. In some ways, our fifth project was the ultimate test of our collective ability to apply what we learned about project management and relationship-building.

With every project we had the opportunity to work alongside different non-profits in Detroit whose projects were organized well before the launch day–our teams just had to execute. Our last project was unique because we were able to choose the nonprofit that we wanted to build a relationship with and help to design the Challenge that we would work on. For our last project we decided to co-create a project with East Warren Development Corporation to propose physical and programmatic recommendations for a property that they own along the E Warren commercial corridor. 

The mission of East Warren Development Corp. is: To support and enhance the E. Warren commercial corridor and adjacent neighborhoods through collaboration, community engagement and equitable development. Early on in our fellowship, Joe Rashid, the Executive Director of E Warren Development Corp., led us on an outdoor socially distanced walking tour down the corridor where we learned about the businesses and venues along the corridor, the robust history of the street, and the plans that exist for this area in the near future. His passion for the past and future of this community stuck with us, so when it came time to plan for our final Challenge, we knew exactly who we wanted to connect with to scope out a project.

Using design thinking, we listened intently as our project partners described that the site currently houses a successful Farmer’s Market and that the longer term plans for this site include a community kitchen incubator and farmer’s market sheds. We were thrilled to be included in helping support the E Warren Development Corp.’s team with planning for ‘small wins’ on the way to this longer term vision of this location as a community commons; a place that encourages gathering, entrepreneurialism, and community healing. It turns out that the small wins would be instrumental in earning the community’s recognition as a place to build community wealth, health, and connections. Adding to this excitement for us is the looming East Warren / Cadieux Neighborhood Plan which is a multimillion dollar investment by the City of Detroit to completely redesign a portion of E Warren to make the community more walkable and enhance curb appeal along the frontage of the street. 

To guide our thinking over the past six weeks, we asked ourselves, “How might we propose a vibrant design and sustainable programming for the former Pizza Hut site that energizes the community along the East Warren corridor?” Before we officially began working on the project, our team visited the E Warren outdoors Farmer’s Market the week after its 2021 launch. We came to experience E Warren Development Corp.’s work with fresh eyes; the vendors, programming, and music brought the place to life in a way that we did not experience when we first visited the site in 2020. Our team even got an informal tour of the Morningside neighborhood on a makeshift open-air trolley whose operator played really good music. 

While spending time talking to residents and vendors, we learned about the activities and elements of design that folks felt connected to. One stakeholder named Maureen Dristan shared that, “We want to make things fun for the community, and also create the ability to buy local so people don’t have to leave the neighborhood.” Once we completed community interviews, the rest of the project took off as we created, refined, and continued to refine our final set of recommendations which were shaped by all of the intentional conversations we had with E Warren Development Corp.’s staff and members of the community. 

Our final Challenge project was a meaningful conclusion to our fellowship year–one that pushed us to build relationships and drive meaningful community change in a virtual setting. We are proud to have managed a thoughtful project that we have handed off to our project partners at E Warren Development Corp. with the hopes that they can use the set-up that we have given them to help drive a soft-launch of the expanded vision for this community commons along E Warren. The streetscape redesign and the pockets of commercial development that are happening along E Warren are a chance for the community to put its stamp on the change that is coming, and set a precedent for how the community can shape projects that will impact them. Ultimately, organizations like E Warren Development Corp. are driving the type of community ownership that will be necessary to ensure that equitable development happens in neighborhoods–and we are deeply honored to have been a part of this work.

Vendor selling flowers at the E Warren Farmer’s Market. Stay updated at https://www.facebook.com/ewarrenfm.

***