The project I was assigned at the Nortown Community Development Corporation (NCDC) was an investigation into the Conner Creek Greenway (CCG). In short, the CCG is a bike trail that extends from the northeast corner of Detroit all the way down to the riverfront park, Maheras-Gentry Park. It follows the historic trail of the Conner Creek that has since been covered up. The CCG is special because it was more or less the first greenway to be introduced into conversation circles in Detroit. It preceded the Dequindre Cut and the widely discussed Joe Louis Greenway, although it has since been somewhat forgotten by the City of Detroit. Consequently, the greenway is in need of reinvestment and attention. While in the Nortown office, I did research on various relevant topics to the greenway. I looked at greenway design books, examples of existing greenways across the country and world, street-cycling developments, and historic sites of Northeast Detroit, among other things in order to complete my project. My mentor took me down the entire stretch of the greenway and I complimented that with a complete google earth tour as well. Together, we met with many stakeholders, including state representatives, the executive director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition and several other community leaders.
All in all, I soaked up a lot of information about the greenway. Next week, I hope to leave my mentor with a few things to sum up the time I’ve spent here. First, I’m working on finishing a map that outlines the conditions of the CCG. I’ve outlined where the bike trail goes on or off the street, where it is protected or unprotected, the conditions of the bigger intersections/crosswalks, etc. I hope this will be beneficial to her as she examines what parts of the greenway are in more need of attention. Second, is a contact list. The contact list will include the names of all the individuals we met or hoped to meet with throughout the duration of my time here. Their names, contact information and relation to any greenway developments will be added so that Pat may remain connected to them in the coming months and years. Lastly, I hope to compile a small document containing the research I conducted while here. I would aim for this document to be useful in terms of advice and inspiration. My goal is to give my mentor accessible and easy-to-understand deliverables that will be of real use to her once I am gone.
With that being said, I don’t feel as though I can talk about my intended project at the NCDC without mentioning my broader experience as well. One major lesson I learned during my time in the office is that non-profit work requires you to be prepared for anything. Emergencies come up, priority lists shift, calls and appointments pop up at any moment, etc. There were even some entire weeks where I did little to no work on the CCG because other tasks were more pressing to the NCDC. Instead, some weeks I would hand out flyers, attend community meetings or assist the NCDC with the rental homes. I realized over time that this kind of work cannot always be planned or scheduled, not because it is unorganized, but just because it is the nature of non-profit work! It was a helpful reminder that not only is it beneficial to be flexible, sometimes it is necessary. I feel as though this is worth mentioning because I had to put a lot of work into tasks that were unrelated to the greenway, but still important nonetheless. Moving forward, I know that this work will stay with me just as much as the work I did for the CCG.
I’m grateful for the opportunity I have had to work in the community-development non-profit sector. It has given me an idea, although still incomplete, of what it is like to engage in this work. On some days it can be chaotic or daunting. On other days, small or large victories can be celebrated. All days end with unfinished business for tomorrow. Another mentor at my office, Karen Washington, told me she loved how this kind of work was never the same. Every day provides something new. In the same vein, every day, then, provides an opportunity to get a fresh start. Community work is rarely easy or straightforward, so when things become exceedingly difficult, it is important to remember small messages like Karen’s. I hope my journey with non-profit and/or community work will not yet be over when we leave Detroit next week, but I know that the lessons learned at the NCDC will serve me well in the future.