Detroit Works – Where is the Communitity Representation?

Reflections from Advisory Task Force Member, Charity Hicks

In the previous year we have seen several twists and turns for the Detroit Works project, lead by the City of Detroit and funded by the foundation community since early spring 2010. One of the direct outcomes of the project is a re-working of governmental operations and fiscal condition, which is supposed to relocate Detroit residents to supposed viable neighborhoods and leave other areas open for investment.

Currently the project is focusing on three neighborhoods to conduct a study on the impact of reducing governmental services, stepping up code enforcement, and increasing demolitions. The three neighborhoods are: Hubbard Farms in Southwest Detroit, Boston Edison / North End/Virginia Park in the central Woodward corridor, and Bagley/Golf Club/Green Acres/Palmer Woods / Sherwood Forest / University District located on the northwest side of the City. After the six month study period, Detroit Works will go into other areas of the City.

Missing the mark

Detroit Works does not leave room for real community representation nor are grassroots interests. Nothing about the project as is will invest in the skills of Detroiters, offer resources to scale up niche market businesses, nor improve the social and economic plight of the community members.

Bing’s multiple references to real estate, governmental operations, and fiscal control have overshadowed the concerns of the people. This community has faced this neglect for decades. Detroit Works’ solution is to ignore our valid concerns and craft incentives for people to relocate to Detroit, while ticketing and pushing the current community folk out of neighborhoods. Who is really benefiting from this?

Reach In, Not Outreach

We have just learned that Detroit Works is joining up with the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) and will be doing “outreach and engagement”. Individuals have been appointed as “process leaders” to drive along CDAD’s interests. Why are these positions not filled by long time community folk living in the neighborhoods or people who are dedicated to grassroots organizing?

Instead of putting energy into “outreach and engagement” Detroit Works needs to prioritize “reach-in and transformation”. We have not heard from the people because they are being talked at, instead of being asked their permission, insight, and thinking. We have seen a wide array of gatekeepers, straw bosses, and issue pimps speaking on behalf of community. The community needs “reach-in” and not “outreach”. We need to be at the table and in the rooms where decisions are made because we will bear the impact of those decisions.

If you ask me, I would put all of the following women on task for the “process leaders”: Raziya Curtis and Hanifah Adjuman from the Northend; Myrtle Curtis, Sanaa NiaJoy, Michelle Jackson, and myself from the Eastside; Ife Kilimanjaro from Downtown; and NeferRa Barber, Linda Campbell, Maureen Taylor, Lila Cabbil, Lottie Spady, and Dr. Suzette Oakfor from the Westside. These thirteen women have profoundly deep connections to our neighborhoods and institutions in Detroit. A group like this, which derives strength from their expertise, care, diversity of thought, and accountability to their communities, is what Detroit Works needs to listen to. Where are these voices in all the decision making?

It’s time for a new narrative and governmental accountability in leadership and operations. One that puts people and our commons at the center of this monumental shift in Detroit. The people of Detroit are our greatest asset.

There is a profound intelligence and embedded wisdom in Detroit’s grassroots community. It comes from lived experience, hope, and historical memory. Detroit Works has not tapped this profound reservoir but continues to march “leaders” out of various places to speak for community and spin the project. We need the people present upfront in discussions because self and community determination will increase well-being for all of us.

One response to “Detroit Works – Where is the Communitity Representation?

  1. Detroit Works is often presented as an opportunity for the city (by those who precisely work on Detroit Works,) but is it really? The problem of community representation is definitely an issue, especially in a (post-?)corrupted city. Thank you for this very insightful article! I’d totally support the 13 women you mentioned btw 🙂 There’s an interesting discussion going on the nytimes, “Destroying Houses to Save Cities,” it’d be great if you gave your input: On another note, I recently wrote about the increasing gentrification of the city, which goes together with the idea of “reimagining” (a.k.a. shrinking down) Detroit. You can check it out at

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