Banglatown project forges new paths towards inclusive community building

By Sloan Herrick, Deputy Director

With the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kresge Foundation, Global Detroit partnered with goodgood, an interdisciplinary design firm, to weave professional design and design-oriented thinking throughout a resident-centered engagement and planning process in Banglatown, a community that spans Hamtramck and Detroit.

Global Detroit and goodgood, with the support of key partners including Power House Productions and the Bangladeshi American Public Action Committee (BAPAC), implemented an inclusive community engagement and neighborhood planning process to form a shared vision, long-term community priorities, and an actionable plan to counter decades of disinvestment in the neighborhood. This six month engagement and planning effort formed the foundation upon which to pursue community and economic development activities in the years to come that are inclusive of immigrants, African-Americans, and others that are often removed from community and civic activities. It did and will continue to center on creating a sense of ownership and collaboration amongst a diverse set of stakeholders so that they have the relationships to become the driving force in the implementation of strategies to build community and improve the quality of life in Banglatown.

Global Detroit’s Methodology

The city of Detroit is more than five percent foreign-born (with over 35,000 foreign-born residents it has the largest foreign-born population of any Michigan city), yet these residents and business owners often feel invisible and cut off from community building efforts. This is often due to the limited scope of engagement strategies that do not account for the distinct cultural, religious, and linguistic needs within any given neighborhood. In Banglatown, Global Detroit crafted an engagement model to break through the barriers that limited English proficiency, restricted networks, and cultural differences create and develop meaningful relationships with foreign-born community members. We learned that the best way to reach community members was through door-to-door outreach, informal block-level events, and ongoing engagement to maintain relationships with residents and business owners with limited free time. Once Global Detroit cracked the code on how to reach, engage, and serve foreign-born community members, these very same measures improved our ability to reach, engage, and serve low-income, often similarly isolated, African-Americans.

The planning process revealed an opportunity to invest deeply in cross cultural exchanges, race dialogue, and other mechanisms to break down divisions between ethnic and racial groups. As a first step to dismantling these dividing lines, Global Detroit convened the Neighborhood Voices Collaborative, a generationally, ethnically, and religiously diverse group of highly engaged stakeholders working together to explore and find solutions for complicated neighborhood-based problems (e.g., safety, workforce, and beatification). With a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, secured during the planning process, Global Detroit will commission a consultant to help foster cross-cultural alliances and neighbor-to-neighbor relationships, so that together, all groups can promote a stronger, more resilient community.

Use of design and data visualization

Global Detroit’s partner goodgood insured that the project adhered to our objective of being human-centered, as well as utilizing visual design in overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers. Visual design and iconography were critical to relaying unfamiliar concepts like community planning, neighborhood priorities, and neighborhood reinvestment, as well as creating a recognizable identity for this planning and engagement process. goodgood used its design acumen to develop a second version of the Vision + Action Plan, one that would relay, in a more simplistic way, the actionable strategies that were informed throughout the six month engagement period.

What’s next?

The planning and engagement process culminated in the Banglatown Vision + Action Plan that is informed by the perspectives, ideas, and solution-oriented thinking of over 450 local residents and representatives of community-based organizations. It provides a roadmap to bring community members’ vision to reality. The Plan highlighted immediate needs for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, entrepreneurship classes, and workforce development opportunities – all of which are a focus of the Global Detroit team in the coming months.

With the generous support of the Kellogg Foundation, Global Detroit is hiring two, full-time engagement specialists to improve access to asset building opportunities for African-American and Bangladeshi community members. You can expect to see exciting things in Banglatown in 2017!

Related blogs:

Global Detroit, Banglatown Join Kresge Innovations Projects 

From the Director: BanglaTown Open for Business – Rebuilding Detroit’s Neighborhoods 

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