Communication Infrastructure for Change

This post is a response to a neighbor who posted the following question to her fellow neighbors on the app,

“Brainstorming ideas: Action instead of complaining. {Long post but looking for those engaged in their communities to chime in} For all my Detroit neighbors near and far in all districts let’s talk! I often see on this app many concerned residents (as it should be) post about issues in their community. The question I have for ALL of us is what are the resolutions? We can complain all day but what will actually bring about change for our neighborhoods?”

One of the things that is needed is to reinforce the communication infrastructure already in place and then leverage technology to make it easier and more effective to mobilize. We already have established neighborhood associations and block clubs. For the city of Detroit’s District 2 most of the larger neighborhood associations have Facebook pages. I would suggest all residents to encourage their neighbors to join Nextdoor and “like” their neighborhood association Facebook page. Then I would recommend all block clubs to identify themselves to their neighborhood association. This would allow us to establish a communication network that would get down to the individual resident. Now as for those residents would are not and will not adapt to and Facebook, I suggest that both the block clubs and neighborhood association have emails and/or phone numbers so those residents can be contacted.

Now why is strengthening this communication infrastructure so important?

1. We do not need to recreate the wheel. We often waste time and energy trying to create a new group. In some cases we have too many new groups that are small and don’t have longevity because of the energy needed to create/maintain a group. It also reduces the financial resources we need for our end goals. Think of it this way, it’s hard enough to gather block club dues and neighborhood association membership donations, so why create yet another group and water down the support for what is already in place?

2. Nothing gets a local politician’s attention like a well organized block club and/or neighborhood association. At first the politician is like a cat sniffing catnip when they encounter a strong, solidly organized, well supported neighborhood association because they see it as a campaign opportunity. However, this is when the neighborhood association should realize that they have the ability to reinforce how politics is suppose to work. Politicians must be re-educated that their role is to support and WORK for the neighborhood association, block club residents.

3. It all boils down to setting the agenda to how money and resource are managed. While collecting block club dues and neighborhood association fees is difficult, we all have contributed income and property taxes which represent a substantial amount of money. A neighborhood association and block clubs which has shown itself to be well established has the ability to influence and dictate to politicians the agenda of issues that require most monetary attention.

4. We need a network that allows residents to communicate together quickly to a) bring awareness of safety concerns quickly, b) discuss issues, c) to identify needs at the most local residential level.

Steps each person can do in order to rebuild this communication infrastructure NOW.

  • Invite neighbors to join Nextdoor. Within the app/website, there is an ability for each user to invite others via email, text, address book or selecting homes that Nextdoor will automatically send invite letters to.

  • “Like” your neighborhood association page on Facebook. Here are links to some of our nearby neighborhood association’s Facebook pages.

1. Schaefer 7/8 Lodge Neighborhood Association

2. Bagley Community Council

3. Winship Community Association

4. Sherwood Forest Association

5. University District Community Association

6. College Park Community Association

7. Greenwich Park Association

8. Greenacres Woodward Civic Association

9. Blackstone Park Neighborhood Association

This is not an exhaustive list. So if you have information on other neighborhoods association and/or block clubs please share that information.

Finally, leverage these resources to identify/communicate/ discuss neighborhood issues. I think we know what many of them are already. With a strengthen communication infrastructure we can then quickly and easily communicate when we need resident emails to be sent in mass to our local politicians regarding an issue. Just think of the statement it would make to city council and the mayor’s office if their offices received emails/texts/phone calls on a single day regarding one of these issues. They would take notice to the organizational strength we have established. We all understand that if residents work in numbers we can take action. This is just one suggestion that reinforcing our communication infrastructure can help us find the resolutions we all seek.


I recently sent out the following tweet:

“@swattsbulb: Love shopping @Nordstrom & would be happy to have a store in the actual city of #Detroit #DetroitsOpenForBusiness”

Now I want to explain the #DetroitsOpenForBusiness hashtag I used and what I created it for, so you can….Ponder and Participate. The idea is to start a grassroots hashtag people can use to invite their favorite companies to open an office or retail location in the city of Detroit. I think it will be more impactful if actual customers ask their favorite store to open in the city. So far I have used this hashtag to reach out to J.Jill, Whole Foods and Starbucks to encourage them to set up in Detroit or come specifically to my zip code of 48235. It actually get’s their attention. Nordstrom’s response:

” @Nordstrom: @swattsbulb We appreciate the suggestion and will let our teams know!”

The secondary advantage of this hashtag is that, if it gains wide use, it starts to create buzz amongst all companies so they start seeing Detroit as a city on the move and encourage them to join in also. But remember that no matter how much I love Nordstrom’s merchandise and super customer service, I have to provide information that makes a good business pitch. So also consider sharing beneficial facts about the city of Detroit’s progress.

  • Share information about other retailers establishing a location in Detroit. As I see it, if John Varvatos can sell in the city, Nordstrom can too.
  •  Share information about successful small businesses in Detroit.
  • Share information on the city’s infrastructure and service improvements. A full fleet of DDOT buses assures a retailer that their workers will have reliable transportation to work.
  • Share information regarding increased STEM training in the city. Talk about the city’s collaborative nature. Mention all the innovative programs in the city.
  • Finally, share the personal testimonies and success stories of Detroit’s numerous entrepreneurs.

Ask and you shall receive, knock and the door shall be opened. So if you feel the need for your favorite store to be near your house, give them a shout out on Twitter and use this hastag, #DetroitsOpenForBusiness. Thanks Wattsbulb

Detroit’s Fanfare for the Common Man

I have always loved Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. A very majestic piece of music which tells the story of the westward migration which built out the United States. As I listened to this music, as I traveled home from a social media meeting, I started to hear similarities to the current state of Detroit.

If you recall how striking the trumpets are in Aaron Copland’s masterpiece. They musically highlight the purity of the strong americans who branched out all over the western half of our country to lay claim to their piece of land. Once claimed, they strongly banded together to build their parcel, their town, their city, their state and ultimately our country. Tonight, at the meeting, I met fellow Detroit residents, who all also displayed a purity of purpose to build their various entrepreneurial endeavors, their community, their neighborhoods and ultimately their city.

One particular resident was the owner of Motor City Java. The best way to describe her is to say she is the human representation of Hebrews 11:1 For those who don’t know the scripture, see it below:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things now seen.“

She told us the story of how over five long years she was able to realize the evidence of her faith by establishing her own neighborhood coffee shop, Motor City Java. She established her business without the naysayers who questioned why she wanted to be in a neighborhood many had written off as blighted. She established her business without a single loan. She established her business with a supportive community who passed the hat at times to build capital for the numerous rehab projects she needed to build the beautiful space she has today. The purity of her faith sounded just like the purity of the trumpets in Aaron Copland’s fanfare.

But Copland authored a fanfare, of multiple trumpets, with a pure sound, in unison, building together to a majesty of their own. So it is in Detroit. The owner of Motor City Java is not alone. Residents in and around Detroit are ready to join the chorus. To stake their parcel. To reach their community. To build a Detroit neighborhood. To play their part in Detroit’s fanfare for the common man.

And yes, as far as Detroit is concerned, you can be a common man. Just a person with a business idea you are passionate about and an entrepreneurial purity of heart. Detroit opens their arms to you. The city has initiated a program called, “Motor City Match”. You can start as simply as Copland started to author his fanfare….with a blank page. Motor City Match will help you fill in the notes. The program focuses on two groups of trumpeting entrepreneurs, property owners of potential retail spaces and small businesses looking for a storefront. On a quarterly basis both groups can apply for competitive financial assistance and support services to help them through build-out and startup. Technical assistance for building owners includes  design/build assistance, priority permitting and financial planning assistance. Business owners receive free business planning class, match-making with top real estate, financial planning assistance, design, build assistance, and priority permitting.

Entrepreneurs are always said to play by a different tune. Detroit is gathering various entrepreneurs, with a purity of purpose and passion, ready to sound far and wide in the city’s great fanfare. Come join the faithful Motor City Java. Come and play your part in Detroit’s Fanfare for a Common Man.

#Detroit #Neighborhood Renewal brings sense of Community.

Can we talk? Recently I have noted just how few options Detroit residents in my neighborhood had to talk to one another. The usual routine was work and then back home. You might happen across your next door neighbor to wave to as you rushed to or from your car. Opportunities for real conversation were limited. They say, “Communication is power”. But our neighborhoods had suffered the effects of limited and/or dwindling power for quite sometime.

Luckily now, some neighborhoods are starting to see the rebirth of small business in our area. Word is slowly getting out and trial is starting to take place. The biggest impact is that we have places to gather and talk. The quick wave is leading to a conversation over coffee & pastries or a breakfast of chicken & waffles. The talk is positive. The positive is palatable as we all share our observations of the city. The positive spirit is growing through the acknowledgement that we can now talk.

Case in point, I stopped by Kuzzos Chicken & Waffles on the Livernois Avenue of Fashion. This is the historic retail area in my neighborhood. In its heyday, it was the place for every fashionista. In the past 40 years, it had become a place to drive by while shaking your head in disgust as you traveled to one of the shining malls in the northern suburbs. In the last few years, the Livernois area is starting to establish itself as an artistic retail area. Pottery and classes at “Art in Motion”. One of a kind merchandise fashioned by artisans can be had from “Love Travels Imports” and “Detroit Fiber Works”. Satisfy your sweet tooth with organic bake goods at “Good Cakes and Bakes”. Buy paintings and sculptures from the up and coming artists in the city when you shop “Jo’s Gallery”. Video games from “GamesVille”. Delightful children’s clothing from “DeCreated”. An eclectic retail experience is starting to take shape in this neighborhood. The third restaurant to open on the “Ave.” is Kuzzos. It joins “Nona” and “1917 American Bistro”.

Because I want my neighborhood to grow and thrive, I have taken the time to visit, get to know the owners and make purchases at these businesses. At this point I feel like a character from “Cheers” when I walk into an establishment on the Ave. These enterprising business owners call me by my first name, as I do them. An experience as unique as their merchandise, that a northern suburban mall can’t replicate. They tell me of their business successes. They tell me of new ideas they have to support their business growth. In our discussions, many of the owners noted how important restaurants are to build foot traffic which leads to increased business for all of them.

So during the first week of Kuzzos opening, I stopped by to give it a try. The place was packed. For this restaurant, it wasn’t so much “word of mouth”, but more accurately “word of anticipation” that had everyone waiting for the doors to open. I wasn’t the only resident in this Detroit neighborhood who wished for a breakfast place that wasn’t a McDonalds. I sat at the bar and immediately conversations erupted with my neighbors. An older gentleman, who sat on my right, said hello. He used to live in our neighborhood, but had moved to the suburbs some years back. As he talked and glanced at his newspaper, he gave a relaxed smile with the approval of the positive developments he is now seeing in this neighborhood. “I wish I could come back”, he said.

The neighbor to my left at the counter was a middle-aged woman. She told me how optimistic she was about the property values increasing near her home. She told me about a recent health scare she had, where she had to call Detroit EMS. She smiled broadly and said, “They were so supportive and good to me. I was so thankful for them that day.” She told me she called the mayors office to tell him of her good experience. She noted the mayor’s office was very effective at giving her the name and number of the head of the EMS department. She called the EMS office and told them “thank you”. She said they told her how grateful they were to get her call. “They always hear about complaints, but it’s nice to hear a thank you”, she beamed.

So now that we are starting to have businesses that we frequent. We can now talk to one another. We can share our positive stories. We can reinforce our individual sense that positive things are happening in the city of Detroit. Our communication can rebuild our power. And this power can rebuild our community.