Building the Engine: The Origins of Detroit Community Development

There have been numerous efforts over the years to create a centralized framework for measuring neighborhood health and sustainability in Detroit. One of the most important strides towards establishing this neighborhood vitality framework has come from an initiative called Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit. This is an ongoing project and a culmination of the collaborative efforts of many organizations and community advocates across Detroit.

The Start of Building the Engine

Creating a centralized effort for improving neighborhood vitality in Detroit is a continuous process that has been years in the making. It started in 2008, when the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) identified the need for retooling the community development industry in Detroit.  

In 2016, CDAD partnered with Lawrence Technological University and the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) to launch Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit (BECDD) to create one central community development system for Detroit, with a goal of creating an actionable plan for strong, thriving neighborhoods across the entire city. The first two years of BECDD were dedicated to researching and developing a strategy for neighborhood success, with the collaboration of 98 diverse stakeholders. 

This process started with first identifying why past centralized community development efforts were not working for Detroit neighborhoods. This was done through a series of candid meetings throughout 2016 about the unique community challenges faced in Detroit neighborhoods, and resulted in establishing the fundamental elements that were needed to ensure successful community development work.

Next, BECDD collaborated with stakeholders and also listened to neighborhood residents—in a traveling discussion series known as “Real Change, Real Talk” that took place in each Detroit Council District—to refine a strategy that would address specific, everyday problems faced by real people. Additional research and analysis on the first year’s findings was conducted by three teams, focused on Research, Data and Evaluation; Capacity Building and Certification; and Career and Education Pathways. 

In 2018, the process of creating a centralized structure began. This included creating several task forces focused on different facets of neighborhood vitality that were responsible for specific deliverables, and continuing the Real Change, Real Talk discussions throughout Detroit in order to continue to listen to and address concerns from everyday people. 

Today, there are over 200 stakeholder organizations engaged in testing and refining the strategies that were developed, using the data collected to take meaningful action to benefit the Detroit community.

Stakeholders: Community Voices

Something that gives BECDD an advantage as a centralized community development collaboration is the number of organizations and sectors that comprise its many stakeholders. From its very beginnings, a key part of the strategy was to combine the wisdom and experience of a multitude of organizations across different sectors, in a way that helps us to understand Detroit neighborhoods on their own terms. 

BECDD employs two full-time staff members, and a steering committee made up of 15 organizations and individuals—6 CDOs, 5 intermediaries, 2 funders, 1 city government official, and 1 university—oversees the various  facets of the organization. Additionally, there are more than 200 stakeholder organizations driving neighborhood vitality initiatives forward. 

Stakeholder organizations include ground-level Community Development Organizations (CDOs), Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), City of Detroit employees, Land Bank employees, nonprofit foundations, universities and academic organizations, private businesses and corporations, and grassroots movements. At the end of each year since BECDD’s inception in 2016, all stakeholders gather at an annual summit in order to share their community development work and discuss key issues and how they can be addressed. 

Key stakeholders also make up various task forces and implementation teams, using their unique expertise and community ties to test and refine their respective community works. The 2019-2020 Task Force consists of 51 individuals and organizations, including representatives from Data Driven Detroit (D3), all working together to collect and evaluate data pertaining to neighborhood vitality. 

No One Size Fits All Approach

The most important part of community development is the community. That’s why a large part of BECDD’s strategy is combining neighborhood voices with existing data from previous community development efforts and success in Detroit and in other cities in the United States. 

This approach consists of thorough data research and collection. New primary and secondary data is being collected from community advocates and people. Additionally, existing data infrastructure is being leveraged and built upon for a comprehensive base of Detroit-centric information that can be used to study neighborhood vitality and drive meaningful change.

Using a combination of existing Detroit-based data and new information collected from members of the community allows BECDD’s partners to create and refine flexible solutions tailored to each of Detroit’s neighborhoods, and to the community as a whole.

Is there neighborhood data that you’re looking for? Contact AskD3 with your data requests or questions about turning information into action.