How can communities transform their neighborhoods?

Posted by Deepak Singh on 22 Jun, 2018

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Avalon Village: From Blight to Beauty

Posted by Francesca Sereni on 22 Jun, 2018

The Avalon Village is a sustainable eco-village being built in Highland Park, Michigan. In the middle of one of Detroit's most blighted and abandoned neighborhoods, Shamayim 'SHU' Harris and her team of engineers, futurists, artists, urban farmers and their nationwide allies are reimagining public and private space.

Where schools have been defunded and closed down, they are building a Homework House. Where city streetlights have been repossessed and people left in the dark, they are building cooperatively-owned and operated solar streetlights. Where healthy food offerings are few and far between, they are building a greenhouse-to-cafe food system.

In 2007, Harris' 2-year-old son, Jakobi, was murdered by a hit-and-run driver. After this tragic event in her life, Harris was moved to uplift her city and to start first with her block. After Jakobi's death, Harris bought a house on Avalon that's home to the Moon Ministry, a religious and nonprofit organization. This was the initial start of the Avalon village. Harris' plans for Avalon Village include transforming vacant lots into basketball and tennis courts, urban gardens, and stores. Older, neglected houses would be renovated for an after-school program. The first abandoned house in the project is being transformed into a Homework House. The Homework House will hold a computer lab, kitchen, library, recording studio, and tutoring programs. Overall, Harris' goal is to acquire 16 houses.

Harris is not alone while building the village: she has several sponsors and the support of Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp. Harris raised more than $243,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, becoming the second-most successful civic design campaign ever.

Avalon Village attempts to overcome problems caused by a rapidly shrinking tax base, an abysmal public school system and rampant blight and neglect throughout the city. Harris said she wasn’t going to wait for developers to reach the neighborhood. And the city can’t be counted on to deliver.