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.