Abstract: Greening the Fair: Community Engagement, Environmentalism, and Sustainability in Economic Development in Detroit's Fairgrounds Neighborhoods (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Greening the Fair: Community Engagement, Environmentalism, and Sustainability in Economic Development in Detroit's Fairgrounds Neighborhoods

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 12:00 PM
Union Square 17 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Marya Sosulski, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Valerie Kowalski, BSW, Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI, MI
The Michigan State Fair served as a showcase of agricultural advancement from its birth in 1849 until it was shuttered in 2009. The 160-acre Fairgrounds site—the largest single tract of developable land within the Detroit’s city limits—was slated for redevelopment in 2012. Detroit’s plans for the site thus far focus primarily on job growth and economic development, and the city has committed to a community engagement process targeting the 13 surrounding neighborhoods. Already engaged in this work, the State Fairgrounds Area Neighborhoods Study (SFANS) is a joint university-community project using Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR) methods to promote engagement and determine what stakeholders in multiple spheres believe will lead to effective, sustainable regional development starting at the State Fairgrounds site. SFANS was designed to assess neighbors’ needs and interests, to inform decisionmakers, and provide a baseline for measuring the progress and impact of the Fairgrounds development on adjacent neighborhoods.

The current study combines data from all domains of SFANS, including: a) logistic regression analysis of survey data, b) narrative analysis of focus groups and in-depth interviews, c) GIS/thematic analysis of community mapping data, and d) contextual analysis of participant observations. Analyses focus on emergent themes and comparisons among neighborhoods and stakeholder groups of participants’ perspectives on topics in six domains, including community-building, energy/sustainability, education, jobs/economic opportunity, open space/recreation, and transit/mobility. Data collection began in spring 2017 with online and paper surveys; focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted throughout spring/summer. Participatory mapping was integrated into focus groups and community events where participants identified community strengths and assets of the physical landscape or otherwise meaningful locations. The community-based research team’s field notes are included for context.

Results of statistical analyses show significant findings in all areas, most notably in environmentalism and sustainability. Age, gender, and homeownership are significantly associated with satisfaction that people in participants’ neighborhoods are environmentally conscious; older people, men, and homeowners express greater satisfaction. However, only homeownership emerged as significant in whether participants think environmental-consciousness is important for the new Fairgrounds development residents (by a factor of 10). Race and homeownership are significantly associated with satisfaction that public buildings in participants’ own neighborhoods use “green” technology; but age and gender are the most significant factors for expressing importance of “green” standards for the Fairgrounds development (i.e., younger people and women identified this as a priority).

The emergence of environmentalism and sustainability as major themes aligns with recent efforts in Detroit to clean up its interior and surroundings to help create a more livable, more sustainable city. The SFANS results point to issues such as environmental consciousness, “green” technology, and infrastructure as important for the city to consider and focus on to address the expressed needs and interests of community members and identify groups to target for engagement. The Fairgrounds can be a model for environmentally conscious development and sustainability, but to gain support for such change, we must understand where support lies and with whom, as well as what kinds of changes communities want to see.