Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood has a reputation for being crime-ridden and dangerous. In late May, a man was fatally attacked in Brightmoor at his house, reports CBS Detroit WWJ. But things here are changing, thanks to four C's: chutzpah, community, children, and care. And it makes Brightmoor worth another look.
Covering 4 square miles, Brightmoor is a thumbnail of the blight, poverty, and danger associated with Detroit. Within its boundary streets -- Puritan (north), Fullerton (south), Telegraph (west), and Evergreen/Westwood (east) -- 37 percent of homes have been lost to arson, abandonment, and neglect. Rebuilding Brightmoor says less than 40 percent are owner-occupied. Absentee landlords rent out sub-standard facilities. SpotCrime says five violent crimes were committed in Brightmoor in April and May alone. It's always been a working-class neighborhood, but when businesses closed, Brightmoor Alliance says 31 percent of residents, mostly families, left. Average income is around $30,000, and average rent is nearly $600 a month, says City-Data. Overgrown properties, derelict homes, and vacant lots make Brightmoor a crime hub.
Neighbors have had enough of destruction, danger, and despair. They've started taking back their streets and homes. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has been on a mission to end blight in the city, says the Detroit Free Press. The Skillman Foundation Good Neighbors Initiative invested rebuilding money in neighborhoods like Brightmoor. Funds will be used from the Hardest Hit Fund to tear down abandoned houses, says the Associated Press. But the real labor has been done by neighbors and volunteers -- kids, parents, schools, houses of worship, businesses, community groups.
Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development says some 350 homes in Brightmoor have been built or rehabbed, along with a 23-unit apartment complex, for low-income people. Plans are to build a community center, town square, senior housing, job center, college extension program, and townhouses.
But there's another level beyond rehabbing, a grassroots, neighbor-driven redefinition. Riet Schumack (who won the 2013 WXYZ Detroit 2020 Inspire Award) works with Neighbors Building Brightmoor (NBB). She says that in a 10-street subsection of Brightmoor, around Fenkell and Eliza Howell Park, a little Eden is rising from the ruin. Schumack says that instead of waiting for city help, her group engages neighbor cooperation. NBB doesn't talk income level. They build ownership and self-sufficiency. If someone wants help fixing up her living space, NBB helps her realize the vision. In their part of Brightmoor, NBB has turned blight into art, trash-filled lots into community gardens, and rubble into playgrounds.
Brightmoor Alliance says nearly one-third of residents are children under 18. Schumack says they're the reason for renewal: "Kids shouldn't grow up thinking ruin is normal."
In 2006, NBB kids started the Brightmoor Youth Garden and Farmway farm market. That's blossomed into other gardens. Coming this summer is the Lyndon Greenway, a footpath linking neighbor-built vest pocket parks along Stoepel Park to Eliza Howell Park. Neighbors help each other clean, fix up, plant, and decorate. They've created a youth activity center, a picnic shelter and rain catch, nature trails, and playgrounds. They converted one ruined home into an open-air children's theater (Schumack's favorite project).
Instead of demolishing, NBB likes to turn homes into 3D sculptures. The goal is that visitors see art, not boarded-up houses with art tacked on. As neighbors dream up new things to build, they invent whimsical names like "Ladybug Lane." There's always something fun going on: art fairs, book clubs, get-togethers, kid and teen activities.
One mural in Brightmoor bears Dr. Seuss's immortal words from "The Lorax": "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it's not going to get better. It's not." Care isn't a passive verb. What happened in Brightmoor, both the ruin and the rebirth, can happen anywhere. NBB puts words into action. Thanks to that passion, this neighborhood is a Detroit beacon instead of a bane.
- Society & Culture