Week 7: Good Intentions – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week 7: Good Intentions

I know we’ve talked a lot already about how good intentions don’t always produce good results, but something happened this past week that made me want to discuss it again: my site manager discovered that there are plans in the works by a Detroit group to turn some of the land near my site into a composting facility. On it’s face (in particular, when you look at the project’s website) it’s a really great project. It has an agreement with a lot of big companies to collect their biodegradable waste and turn it into compost that will then be provided to local urban farmers to help them develop their farms and put carbon back into the ground instead of the atmosphere.

Here’s where the issue comes in: this project, for all it’s good qualities, is essentially a waste management facility. Places like that have an odor and an unsightly appearance, and the proposed address for this project is right in the middle of a neighborhood of houses, many of which are part of a low-income housing project that my site runs. The installation of the site at this location will decrease the number of residents, nearby businesses, and overall quality of life in the area, and, as far as my site manager or anyone she’s contacted is aware, there has not been an ounce of effort on the part of the project to discuss this with the community.

The thing is, this isn’t entirely the fault of the project – the land that they selected for the project is zoned M-4, or heavy industrial. Any land with that zoning designation shouldn’t be anywhere near residentially zoned land because of the kind of blight heavy industrial sites tend to create, and yet, there’s a big piece of industrially zoned land right next to a bunch of houses.

That’s what really worries me the most, from a personal perspective. When you’re developing any kind of project like this, and you need to find a place to house the project, you need to speak with the community first. But before you can speak with the community, you need to have some locations in mind, and part of that selection process often involves picking a piece of land that’s zoned correctly. If I or anyone I work with is developing a project like that in the future, how can we trust what was done before us was done correctly? It feels rude to not trust trained professionals to do their jobs, to always hire more people to do their work, but what else can you do if situations like this happen otherwise?

2 thoughts on “Week 7: Good Intentions”

  1. Lisa, this is a really important point about how well-intentioned social justice work can be, but it ends up producing negative outcomes for the community. Especially in Detroit, where people are so deeply invested in their community, it takes a lot more work to implement a social justice project that is both supported by the community and will make a positive impact. I’ll be super interested to hear more about how this plays out.

  2. Lisa,
    I really appreciated the reflection that you shared. I think something that really stood out to me is that the land was zoned as an industrial zone even though it is right next to a residential area. I feel like the city has a history of neglect, so how do non profit orgs that intend to do good and be sustainable work around these systemic issues?

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