Global Detroit, Banglatown Join Kresge Innovations Projects

Muhit BanglatownIn March, Global Detroit was thrilled to be one of nearly two-dozen winners of the Kresge Innovation Projects – Detroit Round Two awards to enable us to deeper engage in the revitalization of the Banglatown neighborhood. The $25,000 grant will enable us to leverage an earlier National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant to utilize design and data visualization to bridge linguistic and cultural barriers in the diverse and growing community. The Banglatown community engagement and design project will allow us to work with a diverse set of local residents, businesses, and other community stakeholders to design a shared vision for the future of Banglatown that integrates into the larger planning and vision for Detroit and Hamtramck.

Squash Garden BanglatownThe Banglatown neighborhood straddling the Detroit-Hamtramck border is an exciting place that demonstrates many of the values that a diverse, immigrant-rich community can offer. Banglatown is home to one of the nation’s densest clusters of Bangladeshi-Americans and the only place in America where one can get a voting ballot in Bengali. It also is home to large numbers of African-American, Yemeni, Polish, Bosnian, and other diverse residents. According to the 2010 Census, over half of the 5,000 residents are identified as Asian (mostly Bangladeshi), 30% as African-American, and nearly 10% as two or more races. Nearly two-thirds of the residents of this neighborhood live at or below the poverty level and 40% are under the age of 18. More than half of the households (62%) speak a language other than English at home and nearly 40% speak English less than very well. This unique diversity—racial, ethnic, national origin, cultural (the community is home to a significant groundswell of artists and art projects)—creates some very different experiences of the neighborhood.

Despite these challenges Banglatown shows a number of signs of progress and opportunity. Conant Avenue, the main commercial retail thoroughfare, is bustling with activity and is one of the few neighborhood retail strips in Detroit with virtually no vacancies. Neighborhood relations are relatively free of the conflict that often characterizes communities with such different cultures. And the artist community has been developing some of the most innovative projects and programs of any disinvested urban neighborhood in America. The neighborhoods assets have been covered in national publications, such at The Atlantic, and have been highlighted as part of Global Detroit’s national Renewal Award from The Atlantic, National Journal, and Allstate. We have enjoyed working with community partners like the Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (BAPAC) to bring additional attention to the community, including a visit by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to help open the BAPAC office on Conant.

The project will blaze new ground in community engagement by developing a process with local artists, designers, and technologists to bridge the gap between city services, city planning, and the diverse local population, concentrating on the cultural and linguistic gaps that exist. The goal is to use data visualization and design to bridge these cultural and linguistic gaps to create a robust community engagement process, shared vision, long-term community plan, and collaborative efforts to improve the community.

We not only are excited to engage the Banglatown neighborhood, but to use these grants to pioneer new innovations in neighborhood planning and engagement for diverse immigrant-rich communities. We expect to hone new tools in design and data visualization that can be used in other communities to bridge linguistic and cultural barriers, as well as to develop actionable plans that can be used to guide future neighborhood revitalization efforts.

 

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