Seeing Detroit

To plan for tomorrow’s city, today’s residents are documenting the “Cues to Care” they find within their communities.

A garden blooming in front of an abandoned house. A makeshift park on a vacant lot. A woman who in the summer mows ten lawns a week—only one of them hers.

Images of everyday life, yes. But to the residents of Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood, they’re also signs of care that give hope to people like Kathleen Hurd, a longtime Brightmoor resident who is working to contribute to its revitalization.

  • Luis

    Luis - “It’s amazing that this garage in the background was literally invisible before the brushes and overgrowth were cleared.”

  • Kathleen

    Kathleen - “In 1994 my children and I—they were about 6 and 8 at the time—moved into the house with the weeds and decay, and we lived there for four years."

  • Kathleen

    Kathleen - "We moved out of the area in 1997, and with my adult children and grandchildren we returned in 2013, and we moved into the newer home. From the ashes, a new horizon.”

  • Theresa

    Theresa - “It is peaceful, you know. We have joy, and we just continue to have hope, passion, one house at a time, one block at a time, one neighborhood at a time.”

  • Brenda

    Brenda - “I got to say, man, ’bout to make me cry, it is really beautiful over here.”

  • Cindy

    Cindy - “That’s the pocket park that we put in on the northwest corner of Dolphin and Denher. Somebody had dumped a load of tires, so I had the volunteers plant them in a circle for the kids to be able to run and play and jump and sit, and if you look in the background, that’s the vacant house adjacent to the double lot there. We boarded up the side of it with the children’s artwork, and … we used blackboard paint so they can use sidewalk chalk and go to town. There’s a tire swing hung as well. I added one of those little red toddler swings, and somebody else put a slide in. That’s the way the pocket park started out—it’s what can be done when you get movin’ on it.”

  • David

    David - “Upon moving to the neighborhood, my wife, Sky, and I started seeing trash dumped all over the street and woods. We are surrounded by a beautiful thriving forest, filled with wildlife, from deer to beavers to sandhill cranes. The natural environment was one of our main attractions to this neighborhood, so it saddened us greatly to see such disregard for our home. We painted a sign, which we later installed, that we hoped would speak to potential dumpers in a positive, non-demanding way.”

  • Sky

    Sky - “This chimney, this lone pillar of determination, is the result of an angry arsonist. My dear friend owns this property. This chimney reminds me of her. She bought a house on the river to grow her family in. It was burnt down mere days later. She’s still here, planning on what to grow on her now empty lot and starting non-profits while tending to her chickens and raising her children. The chimney stands tall and proud, as she does. It doesn’t crumble at the difficulty of living.”

  • Seed Saving Project

    Seed Saving Project - Sign reads, "Neighborhood seed saving project. Please don't take flowers."

  • Little Free Library

    Little Free Library - A Little Free Library in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood.

  • Brightmoor

    Brightmoor - Brightmoor is an area of roughly four square miles situated on Detroit's northwest border.

Hurd recently joined 15 others in a project designed to illuminate instances of care in Detroit.

The four-month project, “Cues to Care,” focused on two Detroit communities, one in eastside Detroit and the other in the Brightmoor area. School of Public Health alumna Natalie Sampson, PhD ’13, spearheaded the project as a postdoctoral student in collaboration with Joan Nassauer, a professor in the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment, who developed the “Cues to Care” concept. The two worked with colleagues in law, urban planning, and public health, and with 16 Detroit residents.

Sampson, an assistant professor at U-M Dearborn, says she and her U-M colleagues wanted to see if the information they’d gleaned through observational surveys would resonate with what Detroiters themselves thought about their city. So Sampson and her team turned to Photovoice, a process through which people photographically capture aspects of their community as they see it—often in response to negative or misconstrued depictions perpetuated by nonresidents. After completing workshops in photography techniques, safety, and ethical issues, the participants in “Cues to Care” set out to document examples of care in their neighborhoods.

“We wanted to look at how people care for vacant spaces, and to help others see how residents cultivate community and property,” Sampson explains. Participants ranged from a young couple who moved to the neighborhood last summer to longtime residents. “We just continue to have hope, passion, one house at a time, one block at a time, one neighborhood at a time,” said a participant.

Built in the early 1920s as a planned community of affordable homes for auto workers who migrated to Detroit from the South, Brightmoor has the leafy streets and meandering streams of a suburb. But by 2010, much of the once-thriving working-class neighborhood, like other parts of Detroit, was struggling. Today, residents are working to revive the community.

Joanna Lehrman, a graduate student in SNRE who helped implement the project, says the images and stories that have emerged from the project underscore the impact humans have on their landscapes—especially landscapes in transition, like Detroit’s.