The following article will be featured as the "Point of View" contribution to the April edition of BLAC Magazine.
"Building Community Value" by: Chase L. Cantrell
“We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.” This centuries old phrase that would become the motto of the City of Detroit is more than a footnote for students of history. In this quintessential black city, where the prevalence of houses of worship bears witness to a collective culture of faith and a deeply-rooted belief in renewal, the idea of hope has always served as an essential foundation for our community. The Detroit brand of hope and faith, however, has never required heroes or saviors. Instead, it has fostered generations of residents in every corner of the city who dedicate countless hours, year after year, to the hard and often thankless work of maintaining our neighborhoods.
As with any community’s core values, our spirit of hope and commitment to action must necessarily be tested with the passage of time. This principle is no less evident given the current environment in which Detroiters find themselves. After decades of divestment, real estate developers and investors from around the nation and globe have once again become interested in developing properties in the central business district and certain residential pockets. This rapid evolution should come as no surprise to long-time Detroit natives who have always taken pride in the distinctiveness of our architecture. Nevertheless, as the development landscape rapidly changes before our eyes with corporate slogans that hinge on “opportunity,” residents who live in the city’s many neighborhoods must realize, before it is too late, that no single group has a monopoly on opportunity.
When thinking about development prospects, anyone who has spent a significant period of time in Detroit will recognize certain familiar refrains. Many residents will often assert either that the city’s precious resources, not least among these being commercial real estate, are being taken by external forces or that governmental officials have intentionally established structural barriers to prevent long-time residents from sharing in the upside of the city’s renaissance. Regardless of whether one finds merit in these assertions, the notion of waiting for a level playing field in matters of economic development overlooks the rich history of black entrepreneurship and community development in the city.
Ensuring the success of projects despite the deep structural obstacles that have always existed, including the very real challenge of accessing traditional financing, has always required ingenuity in creating grassroots support systems. Simply put, Detroiters who have endured the city’s many difficult decades but nevertheless remained must be bold and intentional in creating their own opportunities. Far from being content with the notion that any new use of a vacant space is better than nothing, we must challenge ourselves to reimagine our commercial corridors to fit the unique essence of our varied neighborhoods. We must begin once more to see opportunity where years of decline have persuaded many among us to see only blight.
With the founding of Building Community Value (BCV), a newly-incorporated Detroit non-profit, I hope to prove through collaborative action that no other groups are better positioned to redevelop Detroit than the city’s residents themselves and their community organizations. BCV’s primary goals are to purchase and redevelop commercial spaces in neighborhoods outside of the downtown core while working closely with other community partners to place minority entrepreneurs in such renovated spaces. The goals may seem simple, but success will require the concerted effort of neighborhood residents, religious and academic institutions, and other local community development organizations. If nothing else, BCV’s founding is a call to action to collectively roll up our sleeves to rebuild the value in our community. Will you heed the call?