Since Community Housing Network started working to revitalize the Unity Park neighborhood in Pontiac in 2011, countless people have commented “It’s Pontiac, what will it matter? You can’t possibly fix all the problems.” I’ve heard the same question asked of the rebuilding efforts in Detroit. My response is always to answer that question with a question: “Isn’t doing something better than doing nothing?”
The naysayers are right on one count. Our organization can’t fix all the problems in Pontiac, and we aren’t setting out to. But we know we can make a difference within our sphere of influence. There are several blocks now in the Unity Park neighborhood where vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties have been replaced by beautiful new single-family homes. Today, these blocks resemble typical blocks in hundreds of Oakland County subdivisions, and most importantly this work has given the residents of this small neighborhood renewed hope in their community and their future. That’s something, and it matters.
A great example of citizens doing something to better our community has been taking place in Detroit for more than four years. A volunteer group known as the Detroit Mower Gang formed in 2010 when the City of Detroit all but abandoned the idea that kids should have a place to play. Refusing to let budget cuts and bureaucracy stand in their way, and without concern for permission, permits, and other reasons most people would cite for doing nothing, they set out to return some of the city’s abandoned parks to the kids. In 2013 the Mower Gang mowed and maintained 14 city parks. Why do they do this? To quote from their website “Because lawnmowers are cool and fun, Because people need us. Because no one else is going to get the job done”. That’s something, and it matters.
Some of us, such as Dan Gilbert and his Quicken Loans family of companies, have the financial and organizational resources to make big-scale impact. For others, like many of us who work in community development, our impact is felt at the neighborhood level. Individual citizens can make their efforts count in smaller yet vital ways, such as caring for a vacant lot, picking up trash and debris, organizing a neighborhood watch or block club, helping put a fresh coat of paint on an elderly neighbor’s home. Those things are all something, and they all matter.
What if we each applied that lesson from the Detroit Mower Gang and did what we could do within our sphere of influence to make our region, our communities, and our individual neighborhoods better places to live, work, and play? That’s a collective work crew of nearly four million people in the tri-county Detroit metropolitan area. There is no problem too complex, no challenge too daunting, no solution too far from reach, if we each make the commitment to doing something instead of doing nothing. It matters.