Community tech designers move forward with Detroit projects


Support for ingenuity, creativity and determination has not wavered in Detroit amid a global pandemic.

This year will see the culmination of investment by three multidisciplinary design teams – Design Core, College for Creative Studies and Connect 313 – after awarding $60,000 in grants to advance inclusive community technology hub projects. This was part of the City of Design Challenge which allowed Detroit residents, designers and community thought leaders to brainstorm and collaborate on projects with the goal of improving Detroit’s neighborhoods.

“The City of Design Challenge elevates and supports the creative problem-solving that takes place every day in Detroit neighborhoods,” says Olga Stella, executive director of Design Core Detroit and vice president of strategy and communications at the College for Creative. Studies. “The finalist projects are special because they were all sparked in some way by the lived experience of their team members. The challenge process offered the finalist teams access to tools and design approaches to developing their ideas, especially deepening the inclusion of diverse voices and needs.

Crosstown Connection

When DaTrice Clark was young, she remembers her great-grandmother taking her on “adventures” on the bus. Clark now understands that these rides helped him connect and explore his community. Therefore, Crosstown Connection became his “baby”.

“It’s a way for me to have a positive impact on the neighborhood I grew up in and to help the people who have given me so much,” she says.

Crosstown Connection pays homage to East Warren, which had the longest bus line in Detroit. Besides taking the DDOT bus line to the mall with his great-grandmother, Clark also walked to the library on East Warren and Outer Drive, as it was the only place that had internet access. . Currently, this facility is still the only free public WIFI site in the community. Crosstown Connection aims to change that.

Clark, along with Ian Kilpa and Jacob Saphier, is creating Crosstown Connection to serve Detroit’s Morningside community by bridging the connectivity gap digitally and literally.

Crosstown Connection’s goal is to build community technology hubs, which will function as bus stops along the avenue, allowing people to charge their devices through solar power, use the hotspot and learn about what is happening in the area.

Clark, who works for an event production company, is determined to see Crosstown Connection come to an end, despite the obstacles.

“The hardest thing about this project so far has been figuring out who to talk to. [in order to] get things done – from permits to an external, reliable Wi-Fi connection,” says Clark.

Underground Music Academy

Robert “Wajeed” O’Bryant has 25 years of experience in the music industry and credits former TV show “The Scene” with his passion for music.

Nowhere is this passion more evident than his desire to bring the Underground Music Academy (UMA) to his hometown of Detroit.

“Most of my weekends have been spent traveling around Europe spreading the gospel of black music,” he says. “But, after a while, you look around and start to realize that no one else is like you.”

“COVID has been the real reminder of the work that needs to be done here [in Detroit]. I had exported my expertise to everyone except mine.

The UMA is based on three phases: construction, program development and online opening. O’Bryant and his team are currently focused on phase two of content development. Simultaneously creating and maintaining their business model is paramount to prolonging UMA’s longevity and permanence. O’Bryant understands that there have always been institutions at different levels that are like WBU, that aim to serve the community.

“But none of them stick. None of them remain, and the question is: why? he asks.

UMA, housed in a 2,400 square foot building, will host at least 12 in-person students and expand its robust online program allowing many people around the world to participate. Anyone with a serious interest in music, whether 16 or 40, and regardless of identity, is welcome to be a student at the academy, O’Bryant says.

“UMA is a space for Us First. It’s for anyone different, anyone who’s been counted.

WBU’s agenda will also be based on social justice, which O’Bryant says he has yet to see.

“Not only is it the idea of ​​teaching people how to be better musicians, better producers or better DJs, but the spirit is really more about being a more complete person. The planet does not revolve around you, we all have something to learn.

Although much progress has been made, the creation of the academy was not easy. The need for a school like UMA to exist is a challenge in itself. O’Bryant often contemplates how to help people balance the importance and necessity of the academy. It’s a deep struggle that goes beyond the art of producing music.

“Most people don’t know that techno is an art form born in Detroit,” he says. “The root of techno and house music is based on peace and love, but in terms of heritage, it’s our birthright as Detroiters.”

18and Street Design and Build Green Technology Center

Tanya Saldivar-Ali understands the ins and outs of urban planning. 18th Street Design-Build Green Tech Hub is physical and outward proof of its love for the industry.

Saldivar-Ali and her husband, who are co-founders of AGI construction, aim for the project on 18th Street to give Detroit residents the opportunity to learn about various careers in urban planning. and access training through Detroit Future Ops, AGI’s social arm that works on minority advocacy and local pipelines.

“It’s very personal for AGI as Native Detroiters and as a minority business trying to grow in the midst of a pandemic,” Saldivar-Ali says. “I want people to know that many city builders invested in and developed the path of our community before the rest of the world decided to believe in rebuilding Detroit.”

Saldivar-Ali has also collaborated with Seann Lewis, CEO of his own tech company and Navy veteran, to help with different types of technology, including matter port analytics, virtual reality and storytelling which is hosted on the online portal.

Saldivar-Ali believes Lewis’ passion for virtual reality is what took this project to the next level.

“It just wasn’t the technology, but ‘how’ we used technology that gave access and highlighted engagement was super innovative,” she says. “I realized after the COVID hit that we were ahead of the game with tools for our industry and connecting the Detroit-designed ecosystem with technology innovation.”

But this project is bigger than a building, Saldivar-Ali and his team firmly believe that bridging the generation gap is crucial and involves more than building buildings; it stems from the ownership of these properties and the reduction of the digital divide.

“We wanted to demonstrate a community building model that new businesses and other developers could learn from,” she says.

His teammates share his vision.

“I hope I can help people like I continue to be helped,” says Lewis, a native of Southwest Detroit. “I believe this project will create jobs in the region and help those who want to start or maintain their business to do so. »

The project may be further along, but access to capital has been a challenge. Nonetheless, Saldivar-Ali remains focused on the goals of “community engagement, respect and understanding of needs, trust, solutions by and for the community, and partnerships.”


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