After more than three years of planning and preparation, VEJ's Kresge Foundation-funded Hope Park Neighborhood Land Use and Vision Project is finally under way.
The Hope Park Project invites residents of the neighborhood around Hope House & Garden to imagine and plan the future of their community. That includes designing a new Hope House & Garden that meets the desires and needs of neighbors. It also envisions how vacant buildings and land could be put to use for the good of the community.
In the spring, VEJ contracted Detroit community organizer Roslyn Ogburn to lead the project. VEJ also contracted the Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy to provide community development and design expertise.
Over the summer, Ogburn met with dozens of community leaders to form a Hope Park Project steering committee. The steering committee will take on the task of engaging community residents in the process of designing and planning their neighborhood.
That steering committee, which will comprise 12 - 15 members, will soon be set. However, the members who already committed to serve started meeting in August and will start their outreach in September.
Outreach for the Hope Park Project will consist of community events like VEJ's Sunday Dinners in September and October. It will also consist of small group gatherings that steering committee members host in their own backyards or at Hope House & Garden.
"This process is really about asking the right questions and listening so that we understand the desires and needs of the people who are at home in the Hope Park neighborhood," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "Having residents gather small groups of their neighbors to talk with each other in comfortable places seems like the best way to honor and serve the community through this project."
Irwin said the first formal meeting of the steering committee on August 19 revealed that the Hope Park Project will have to dive into much deeper layers than just design.
"There could be a strong feeling among community leaders that they have seen all of this before," said Irwin. "Foundations, government, nonprofits, and other groups come along and say they are going to do something big for the community. Then, the reality does not meet the expectations that are set. When that happens, people feel angry, hurt, and resentful as any of us would. After a few times, they have a hard time trusting again."
Feelings like these came out in the first steering committee meeting.
So rather than just go straight into design work, Ogburn is creating a series of programs that will allow community members to express and process their feelings. Those programs will take place at Hope House & Garden under the direction of experts with training in helping communities deal with loss and trauma.
"The thing to remember is that the Hope Park Project is really not about the built environment or even about land," said Irwin. "It's about people. It's about how people relate to one another and how they relate to their built and natural environment."
Ogburn hopes that the steering committee will capture feedback and input from 100 to 200 residents by late fall. That would give the designers and steering committee enough information to create concepts for land use, including Hope House & Garden. Those concepts will go before the community for feedback and will eventually lead to the steering committee choosing the final concept and plan sometime in early 2022.
"We have until the end of 2022 to finish the project," said Irwin. "But our goal is to finish the concept and plan by next spring. We want to be able to start seeking funding as early as possible so residents can see us going to work on some of their ideas by next summer."