Week 9: A Circle Back to the Beginning – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week 9: A Circle Back to the Beginning

When I wrote my first blog post, I was very motivated by the concept of public, shared space because of the book I was reading, Palaces for the People. From the book, I took note of how public spaces create communities in neighborhoods and cities. These communities are fundamental in creating healthy, happy and well-connected living spaces for residents. As the book describes, the stronger a community is, the more prepared it is to protect its members from disasters like hurricanes or pandemics. The author of the book put an emphasis on positive examples, explaining more in-depth the neighborhoods that had success stories amid disasters. He did not entirely omit the challenges and barriers faced by so many other communities, but it was clearly not his focal point to share those stories. As such, I was influenced by a much more positive outlook at the beginning of the program. 

I learned over the weeks, though, that community work is hard, relentless and exhausting. A community like the ones the author of Palaces brought to light felt out of reach in the context of the neighborhood I was working in. And while there were many people working to improve the community in whatever way possible (both within the office and outside of it), the work still felt isolating from time to time. In these last few weeks of the program, I’ve seen how helpful it is for me to return to the apartments in the evening and bike or read to recharge my energy for the next day. And this is particularly interesting to me because for many people engaging in community work, ‘work’ and ‘home’ are in the same or a nearby area, so the separation between the two is much harder to achieve. 

At this point (in the ninth week), I’ll admit I feel tired. It’s a result of all the knowledge I’ve gained and work I’ve done, which is good because it means my time here has been full and well-spent, but it also signifies the taxing nature of the work. I am also greatly impressed by the stamina and dedication of my mentor and the others who work at the NCDC office. Even though my time here has been brief, I’ve been lucky to hear just a taste of the wisdom Pat and Karen (my two “mentors,” if you will) have to share from their years of membership in this field. The experience of working at the NCDC has taught me many things as it has led me to enter a new domain and opened up a new perspective on world-functionings. I would be curious to see what it would be like to reread Palaces now, having completed the DCERP program and participated in the work of a community non-profit. I wonder how the bike trail of the Conner Creek Greenway (my project at the NCDC) might relate to the message of the book, as a shared public space that connects communities across the city of Detroit. Moreover, I would be interested to think about how the greenway includes communities that have been left out of so many of Detroit’s attempts at revitalization (like Detroit’s 3rd district) into the project. On a more holistic level, I strongly believe that hearing positive stories and examples increases our inspiration and drive, but I imagine I would not be wearing the rose-colored glasses I may have been wearing before if I revisited the book. Although perhaps bittersweet, it is exciting to think about how I am becoming a more well-rounded person, prepared to listen, reflect and hopefully contribute to the progress the world and so many communities within it need. 

As the program comes to a close, I am keenly aware of how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to be a DCERP fellow this summer. The time I’ve spent here has taught me life lessons, offered explanations to existing concepts in my head and introduced me to so much more. While I knew I had changed as a result of this summer’s trials and tribulations, I don’t think I realized the extent of how much I had changed until I took another look at my first blog post. The experience has been irreplaceable, even if (and especially because) it was difficult at times. Thank you to all of you for the memories, tasty potluck eats, concert dancing, humorous pictures and back courtyard chats! I hope to see all of you around campus in the fall!  

3 thoughts on “Week 9: A Circle Back to the Beginning”

  1. Emily Castaneda-Espinoza

    Hi Owen, it seems you’ve gained a lot from this experience! I agree that our mentors are incredible for the hard work they do, and I’m sure they’re thankful to have had you there to help them this summer! It’s been fun hanging out with you + the other fellows, we’ve been able to have such great experiences together. Wishing you the best of luck this fall and hope we’ll all meet again!

  2. Hi Owen, your reflection on Palaces and the reality of community work is really interesting to think about, and I agree with you in regards to how much my own perspective has definitely shifted in the course of these nine weeks. It’s been great getting to meet you this summer, and look forward to seeing you in the fall!

  3. Hi Owen!! What a beautiful reflection on this summer in DCERP. I have also learned about the importance of shared public spaces during my time at NSO and exploring Detroit. I have faith that as time goes on and these spaces are brought more to the forefront, folks will realize how precious and important they are and the money for restoration (like the Conner Creek Greenway) will follow. I am so grateful DCERP brought us together and I’ll see you on campus this fall 🙂

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