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.
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.