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Restore the 'Moor

14551 Burt Road
Detroit, Michigan 48223

Joe Rashid

By Matthew Lewis
November 22, 2013

"I'm really just a dot connector. I'm not trying to do anything more than that," says Joe Rashid, the humble Outreach Director for Restore the 'Moor, a community-driven plan that is being developed by and for community members in Brightmoor. "I'm trying to make sure that the brilliant ideas that people in the neighborhood are putting out, be it ecotourism or developing safe routes to school, are given the proper attention."
"Restore the 'Moor" is somewhat unique for a neighborhood scale plan in that it is addressing both land use and quality of life issues. In Brightmoor, as in many other Detroit neighborhoods, these issues are inextricable from one another. High levels of vacancy over the last decade made Brightmoor synonymous with blight and illegal dumping, issues that have an immediate effect on residents' quality of life.
But now, the neighborhood's abundance of vacant land coupled with an increasingly engaged community is making Brightmoor synonymous with something entirely different—innovation.
"The natural landscape in Brightmoor is a huge plus," says Rashid. "Look: we have 94 acres that have been cleared and another 200 that potentially will be cleared [of non-structural blight by the Detroit Blight Authority]. There are 500 vacant acres overall in Brightmoor. If you were to look at the cost of mowing, it costs $1,000 per acre, conservatively. That's $500,000 per year that you could spend just mowing vacant land in Brightmoor. We're looking into uses of vacant land that can add value rather than take it away, as well as produce jobs."
One idea some folks in Brightmoor have for reducing the cost of maintaining vacant land is by introducing sheep and goats to graze the grass—acting as organic lawn mowers. But there are also ideas from residents for deriving profit from the land.
Says Rashid, "You have to look at energy production, urban animal husbandry; you have to look at art. You have to think of when you have this much vacant land in a six-square-mile area, what can you do to start building a local economy off of it."
Now Rashid's task is getting residents who have viewed vacant land as a liability for so long to buy into the idea that it can become an asset. The way he and his peers are accomplishing this is through an extensive community outreach campaign. The concept is to mine residents for creative ideas, which Rashid believes are abundant in the community.

There are already examples in the neighborhood to point to. "It started with Neighbors Building Brightmoor," says Rashid, referring to a group of neighbors in a section of Brightmoor who banded together to address community challenges with creative solutions like public art and urban agriculture. "Now we're getting all sorts of ideas from everyone."

Rashid has worked for the Brightmoor Alliance on Restore the 'Moor for a year now. Before that, he was doing community development work in Southwest Detroit. He grew up in the University District, but he proudly points out that his family has lived in the Lasalle Gardens neighborhood for more than a century.
His academic background seems to uniquely qualify him for the work he is doing now around land use and quality of life. He began a degree in environmental science at Green Mountain College in Vermont and ended up finishing in social and political science at Marygrove College.
He is combining those experiences while engaging the Brightmoor community to participate in the planning of Restore the 'Moor. "So far, we've reached about 1,300 residents through meetings and being present in the neighborhood. Ideally, we will have reached over 2,000 residents, or 10% of the population, at the end of this process."
Rashid engages residents in an interactive way, like when he attended this year's Harvest Festival of Neighbors Building Brightmoor. He put up sheets of paper with different headings along the lines of "In my neighborhood, I would like to see…" and talked with residents as they wrote suggestions. He will continue to attend community events like this until the Restore the 'Moor document is ready to go to print, which he hopes happens by year's end.
"From that point, it becomes about marketing it to funders. We know we are a neighborhood that people are looking towards to figure out how to do things differently in Detroit," says Rashid. "Our job is to figure out how to align the aspirations of the community with the funding that's available."

Rashid has other projects in mind to help spread the word about the innovation happening in Brightmoor, even internally to people who live there. "Sometimes the residents don't even realize about the initiatives and innovation already happening in their neighborhood. I'd love to take a day-long bus tour that takes residents around to show them a lot of the innovative stuff that's happening around them."

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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Related People

  • Riet Schumack
    Riet Schumack is one of the co-founders of Neighbors Building Brightmoor, a non-profit organization composed of a group of neighbors "dedicated to mobilizing, equipping, and helping each other to create a beautiful, healthy and sustainable community for ourselves and our children."
  • Kirk Mayes
    Kirk Mayes is the director of the Brightmoor Alliance, a coalition of organizations dedicated to delivering social services to the Brightmoor community in Northwest Detroit. He is also a drafter of the Detroit Declaration, a member of the B.I.N.G. Institute Roundtable and a player on the Detroit City Futbol League's champion team.

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  • The Brightmoor Alliance
    The Brightmoor Alliance is a coalition of nearly 50 organizations dedicated to enhance the capacity and the effectiveness of Brightmoor residents and stakeholders to transform our community into a community of choice.
  • Data Driven Detroit
    The mission of Data Driven Detroit is to use advanced information technology to gather and analyze relevant data for those organizations and citizens of the greater Detroit metropolitan area who are dedicated to transforming information into action.