Abstract: More Than a Piece of the Pie: Empowering Neighborhoods through Community Benefits and Social Entrepreneurship amidst Major Economic Development in Detroit (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

More Than a Piece of the Pie: Empowering Neighborhoods through Community Benefits and Social Entrepreneurship amidst Major Economic Development in Detroit

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Marya Sosulski, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Joseph Ingall, BSW, Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Michael Zandstra, BSW, Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Detroit residents have ridden continual tides of upheaval and change over the past 150 years. The turn of this century has arguably been as dynamic as the last as major corporations and investors pump resources into Downtown and Midtown properties. Less attention is being paid to the multitude of smaller-scale, entrepreneurial projects in the city’s neighborhoods; nor has the spotlight focused on the considerable growth potential of the as-yet-unspecified 142-acre development at the historic Michigan State Fairgrounds (SFG) site. This project will transform the last, largest developable plot of land in Detroit, significantly changing the landscape and everyday lives of nearby communities. In cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and New York, such development brought gentrification, notoriously displacing long-time residents and destabilizing communities. Detroit is different: In addition to benefits for corporations, the administration supports residents through social entrepreneurship programs; and Detroit is the only major U.S. city to enact a Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO) requiring large-scale project developers to enter into Agreements (CBAs) with representatives of affected neighborhoods. This study examines potential for community empowerment through social entrepreneurship and CBOs to influence decisions about development in Detroit’s north central corridor, at and around the SFG site.  

The multi-year, mixed-methods State Fairgrounds Area Neighborhoods Study (SFANS) was designed through a community-driven, collaborative process to assess community members’ needs and interests, inform decision-makers, and provide baseline measures of the progress and impact of the Fairgrounds development on north central neighborhoods. Analyses were conducted in all five SFANS dimensions: descriptive statistical analysis of original survey data; narrative analysis of focus group and interview data; GIS/thematic analysis from participatory community mapping; and data collected through Photovoice and photo elicitation methods, comparing residents’ and other stakeholders’ perspectives in six domains: community-building/empowerment, energy/sustainability, education/professional development, jobs/economic opportunity, open space/recreation, and transit/mobility.

Survey results show significant findings in several areas, notably that participants believed they and their neighbors were informed about change/development, whether they “had a voice” and opportunities to participate. Focus group and interview participants expressed frustration at perceived slow rates of progress of the SFG development and eagerness to participate in lobbying for development that produces community benefits (e.g., economic opportunities and “world-class transportation”). Through mapping, participants identified area assets and strengths and submitted ideas for creative uses of the SFG to appeal to local residents, national, and international visitors. Images focused on historic buildings and representations of enjoyment, community-building, and engagement. Participants expressed consternation at perceived lack of transparency by officials about the SFG development, concern that the CBO is too weak, and skepticism that the administration will follow through on commitments to community engagement without direct action.

The implications of these findings from the combined dimensions of the SFANS indicate alignment of purpose, goals, and interests among community members. There is general agreement that the SFG development holds great promise for improving neighborhoods and once again attracting global visitors to Southeast Michigan, but not without action and direction of community members with the motivation and drive to make it happen.