Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Beginning of something big...

Where would a Detroit blog post about sustainability and community be without starting with the people in the trenches, cleaning up their neighborhoods, having weekend quasi-block parties and starting community gardens? Derelict, most likely.

I originally thought about the American Institute of Architects (AIA) award to Detroit in the form of the 2008 Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT). I thought about giving you readers the chance to see how far we've come from a simple mass email signaling a call for participation to full on task forces led by the leaders in our city. But the 2008 SDAT, which began as something idealistic, has been slowly gaining speed and quietly confronting barriers to our insured existence as a city. This process will continue into the future, slow and steady, step by step. Hence the title 1.0. Volume 1 of the SDAT is the careful study of our past two hundred years as a city and region. The culmination of 1.0 will be on November 1st with the publication and distribution of the Detroit SDAT 2008. Volume 2.0 is taking those determinations, revelations and directives to the streets, to the people and to the politicians. Volume 3.0...slow and steady, step by step. Maybe we won't need a volume 3.0...

Maybe the initiative of metro-detroiters will rise to the occasion and our city will regain it's world class status as a desirable place to manufacture products people can feel good about using. Maybe we can figure out that we are more than the account numbers on our credit cards and DTE energy bills. Or, that it is possible that we can take responsibility and control of our own future. Maybe the sheer will power of our residents will spark an outpouring of compassion and neighborliness to the entire region. Maybe we can look back at one young man's vision to reclaim a vacant, rotting parcel of land and turn it into a urban garden and community gathering place, free to all, for all to own and take pride in, as the dawn of Detroit - Sustainable City.

He goes by the name of Cub. His mother, 'mama cub', and they are rapidly reclaiming this city as their own. It began as something small. I met him back in February at a non-profit meeting and he was looking for volunteers. We talked about rain barrels and drip irrigation. He said that he didn't need anymore seeds, he had enough. He needed hoses...hence the discussion about harvesting rain water for future use. A few weeks later i read about his progress in our local forum, 'Detroityes'. My heart went out to him and his fellow gardeners. They have a had a rough go of it. Frost scares, midnight plantings, thieves and whatever else man or nature could throw at them. Day by day, though, this group of residents has steadily created something miraculous. It's now almost August, and in those few short months, he's been able to move mountains.

This weekend, this group of Detroit's forgotten and lost did something else that defies our post World War II traditions of isolation and segregation. They held a community reading and movie night for the neighborhood kids and parents. True to form, the event was open to all, free to all. Small dishes were delectably contrived from the fruits of their labor. Neighborhood kids came out in numbers to be a part of this historic event. Cub reported the excitement of the day as child after child approached him before the reading to make sure it was still going to happen. They read from Harry Potters first book and then settled in to watch Transformers (one of Detroit's most famous local filmings). Next week they will do the same. Saturday nights at the Georgia St. Garden.

So when we talk about living sustainably and we talk about reform. We should look no further than the Georgia St. Garden to garner inspiration. I may write blogs about change, i may research for hours on how best to accomplish change and what policies work, what environments are suited towards a sustainable future, but Cub and gang have rolled up their sleeves and gotten to work. Everyday new opportunities arise from the few small seeds he planted. Everyday lives are changed by the compassion he shows for his surroundings and those that are left behind. We forget to quickly that we are all on this rock together. We too easily get wrapped up in global changes and threats to our way of life that we feel can only be solved by legislation and reform. We all have our parts to play to insure a vibrant planet and a vibrant city. But we mustn't look past those that have to live with our decisions. Cub hasn't looked past the people that are the actual ones we talk about helping and making into productive members of society. Cub is the everyday hero that simply takes those around him by the hand and says 'i care' and 'yes, you are relevant'.