In advance of WDET’s Community Meeting tonight from 6-8 p.m. at Matrix Human Services at 13560 E. McNichols, Detroit, MI 48205, WDET Bankruptcy Reporter and Next Chapter Detroit Blogger Sandra Svoboda interviewed Wayne Ramocan of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance about how neighborhood groups are working hard to address the issues of blight, park maintenance, and creating sense of community. More details about meeting which is open to the public, can be found here.
Sandra Svoboda: Tell me about the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance.
Wayne Ramocan: The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance is a community organization that has been in existence since 2010, but we’ve been in the Osborn neighborhood since 2006 just building the foundations for the organization, and we work a lot with block clubs, a lot of small organizations that have been in the neighborhood for a long time. Our main goal is to support them when it comes to any type of planning, advocacy, even some small funding. We help them to try and find the resources that they need for their programs and initiatives and other representatives of the neighborhood.
SS: For who aren’t familiar with the Osborn Neighborhood up there in north, northeast Detroit, can you tell me about some of the challenges the area is facing?
WR: One of the challenges that we face of course is blight. The east side in general is pretty notorious for blight or at least it has been traditionally. Now the thing is, it is also a citywide problem but that’s something we’ve been tackling since we got here but as we’ve started to focus on blight we’re obviously seeing a lot of other issues in the neighborhood, population loss is another one but these things aren’t anything that aren’t going on anywhere else in the city and also across the nation, not just Detroit.
SS: And what are some of the strategies that you’ve seen work in the Osborn area related to improving the blight situation?
WR: As far as how we’ve been addressing blight, one of the main things we’ve been trying to do is look at small wins. So how we started with it was the small clean ups and boards up. But we’ve also started to address some of the blight in our neighborhood parks. Now we know that the city has not been able to take care of some of the parks around these neighborhoods and for whatever reason, we’re not going to go into all the reason but the fact is they haven’t been taking care of what they should have been so in the past we’ve been working in the parks helping to maintain the grass and things like that. We’ve been looking at different ways we can do little things to show physical improvement in the neighborhoods. We’ve been fortunate now that the city is starting with the Adopt a Park program, at least they’ve rejuvenated it. So we’re seeing a lot of improvement in a lot of the parks we’ve been maintaining over these past several years. The city is doing a better job of working with their partners. We’ve been working on things like that and building on those successes. Like I said those small wins. We’ve been building on those small wins and now we’re looking at actual development of buildings, single-family homes, multi-family homes and even apartment building that we’re starting to address in the Osborn Neighborhood.
SS: So is this almost the reverse of the Broken Window theory. That’s the idea that once one window is broken in a neighborhood, everything goes down quickly. It sound like you’re almost having that effect in reverse. One park is improved and there’s some momentum?
WR: That’s what we’re hoping for and it’s starting to work. You have two sides of it. So one side is like the people who live here. That’s what I would argue is the most important. Folks who live in the Osborn neighborhood want to see something because you can have some of these other issues being addressed behind the scenes but if residents aren’t seeing it, it doesn’t really exist. You know, because sometimes those things take a little while to actually be visible or manifest itself where residents can actually touch it. That’s on one side. We’re trying to show results to the residents who live here to say, OK things are happening. It’s slower than a lot of us would like but things are happening. So that’s one. The other side is for the funding. The reason why we start small is because when it comes to funding you want to show that something small, you know, a pilot project or whatever you want to call it, it’s can work so you build on those successes. Like I said, we’ve been working in many different ways throughout the neighborhood on these small projects over the years and now these things are being compounded and we’re actually finding funding for these larger projects that residents are asking for and saying there is a need for, we’re able to show that hey, we’ve shown success and now we’re asking for larger funding for so and so project.
SS: I’m speaking with Wayne Ramocan, he’s the program manager at the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, our community partner at tonight’s bankruptcy meeting. What strategies have you used in these project to really get residents involved and really feel like they’re making a difference in their neighborhood?
WR: It’s showing those results as much as possible even if they are small because in order to get any kind of buy in for anything that is happening, whether it’s our type or work or anything you could even apply this to business. If you want people to get on board, you have to show some type of result. People don’t want to be a part of something they feel is going to fail. And a lot of times in the past we’ve seen some examples of how residents have been failed by institutions or the city I don’t know, people, things that are here in Detroit. So what we want to show is that we will be successful or at least we’re more likely to be successful than things that have seen here in the past. That’s what we’re still working on, building that trust. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it is: building that trust and building these relationships in neighborhoods. That’s the strategy that we’ve been taking and it really does end up like being a one or one type of thing where you have to build relationships one by one. We find ourselves visiting the homes of some of the resident here, some of the block club leaders. That’s what it takes. You have to sit down and have conversations, get feedback and have conversations. You have to respect the people, the voices of the people who do actually live in these neighborhoods.
SS: What are you hearing from people there about the bankruptcy? Are they feeling any specifics effects or do they have particular questions about the process?
WR: You know, I haven’t heard too much about the bankruptcy. A lot of times when we’re talking about any type of issue in the neighborhood it’s usually just about the neighborhood. A lot of times when I hear about the bankruptcy is when somebody is say a former city employee or has some type of interest in the bankruptcy itself but other side, the average resident at least the response that I’ve been getting form the average resident, the bankruptcy doesn’t come up as often as you think though it is such a big deal and it affects a lot of, just everybody’s lives.
SS: Why do you think that is?
WR: Because I think it’s so big and now this is just me speaking, right, this is what I believe is that it’s so big, it’s so hard to grasp and it’s moving so quickly it’s hard to catch up. You usually just hear about the larger developments that are happening with the pension or whatever is happening at the moment. Usually that’s just the talk but other than that, there’s not too much to grab onto unless you have a personal interest.
SS: Why should residents come to these kind of community meetings?
WR:Usually with these community meetings, now I guess I should start with our organizations, that’s one of the things we’ve done over the few years we’ve been here is host community meetings and we’ve also invited partners and other folks to come and speak about whatever important issue is important at the moment, right? So we’ve always made sure to have a variety of information so in this case, the primary thing we’ll be talking about is the bankruptcy but we are always including other information that is relevant to the resident of Osborn. So in this case, you know, the bankruptcy being distilled would be great beaus like I said it’s a huge topic that is hard to wrap your mind around so that’s what I think the benefit will be for the residents but also general information that we have about the neighborhoods, about the city about the things that are happening that pertain to the residents of Osborn.