Detroit youth fight blight from the inside out
What does it take for a city to maintain safe and beautiful neighborhoods? For Detroit, the answer is simple: youth must be engaged.
A critical question for the City’s Department of Neighborhoods, a team dedicated to beautifying and servicing Detroit communities, is how to attract youth to get involved in the issue of blight.
City officials—Raymond Solomon II, Department of Neighborhoods director; Mona Ali, district 7 manager; and Steele Hughes, district 1 deputy manager—convened with metro Detroit young adults to gain better insight into the minds of youth.
Relevance and representation create youth engagement
Ushering in a new generation of thought leaders to rethink neighborhood infrastructure can only be done by asking the tough questions first. Knowing this, the Department of Neighborhoods shared its inquiries as part of the “Gen Z Design Sessions”, an open forum for youth-driven consultation. The series is moderated by the Steen Foundation with support from The Skillman Foundation.
For the youth strategists, engagement is a matter of representation and relevance. Logan Newman, Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council alumnus, said messaging on neighborhood blight might hit closer to home for homeowners and older city residents with more stake in community success. To get young people more invested in their neighborhoods, there needs to be support and pathways that encourage them to stay in their neighborhoods through early home ownership.
Mohammad Muntakim, another Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council alumnus, added, “We need ownership for young people. Is there an opportunity to create a program that gives support for folks coming out of college? Some people have to collect two years of tax returns to even get a potential loan to get a house. How can we create processes for Detroit students and people who’ve lived in Detroit their entire lives don’t have to go elsewhere? And that addresses the aspect of retention for young Detroiters.”
Concerns about the importance of beautification were also shared amongst the group. Described as a band-aid for more significant infrastructure issues, community clean-ups held smaller relevance with the youth strategists than the infrastructure itself.
“…One of the things about community beautification is that you’re correcting a problem that already exists. If you’re picking up trash, that means someone is dropping the trash. Are there no trash cans? Is the sanitation service unreliable?,” asked Willyne Smith, President’s Youth Council alum. “Beautification, to me, is a vanity aspect of addressing problems that are rooted in infrastructural oversights.”
To help the department meet its goals, the strategists suggested it focus on strengthening youth voice and examining additional tactics for driving neighborhood success.
Specific suggestions included:
- Hire a youth liaison to recruit other young people to take part in neighborhood activities
- Incorporate service-learning programming where youth identify the priorities in their neighborhood that are important to them and are given the support and structure to create community-based projects around those priorities
- Implement a youth council to dive deeper into the questions raised and set a youth agenda to incorporate young residents’ visions and priorities in the Department of Neighborhood’s work
Gain inspiration from the amplification of youth thoughts shared throughout the Gen Z Design Sessions by following the series on skillman.org.