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213 Chapter 11 CIVIC STEWARDSHIP AS A CATALYST FOR SOCIAL-ECOLOGICAL CHANGE IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN Rebecca Salminen Witt, Erika S. Svendsen, and Marianne E. Krasny From thirty thousand feet above the ground, much of Detroit appears to be a sea of green. In places its dense tree canopy makes Detroit appear as both city and forest. Elsewhere, a sprawling, verdant landscape is interspersed with homes, offices, and wide boulevards. Comprising nearly a third of Detroit’s land area, vacant grasslands punctuated by stands of trees are noticeable even from the air. At ground level, it becomes clear that the view from the air belies the hardships and struggles embedded in the sprawling open space. Close up, Detroit’s urban grasslands are no idyllic native prairie, and the forests emerging along forgotten fence lines bear little resemblance to the oak-hickory savannah that once characterized the area. In fact, many who remain in sparsely populated neighborhoods consider this type of nature as a further sign of abandonment and neglect. Yet residents and organizations have emerged to convert these neglected open spaces into green spaces that offer amenities to local residents and in doing so demonstrate that urban nature’s social-ecological benefits do not accrue on their own. They demonstrate that urban green spaces—whether community gardens or greenways, a wildflower meadow or a grassy field, an alleyway of trees or a tree nursery—must be recognized, valued, experienced, and attended to by the people who live nearby. These environmental stewardship groups are defined by their actions to conserve, manage, monitor, advocate , and educate the public about their local environments (Svendsen and Campbell 2008; Fisher, Campbell, and Svendsen 2012). One role for urban 214 MOVEMENT BUILDING environmental stewardship organizations is helping residents to convert and reappropriate space into places of social-ecological meaning (Tidball 2014; Krasny, Crestol, et al. 2014). Similar to the impression one might have of Detroit from remote aerial imagery, the stories about restoration and revival heard from afar often offer a single perspective of the opportunities that await. Academic design studios and popular press articles have depicted Detroit as a new frontier populated by savvy entrepreneurs and by artists attracted by low rent in a city where they can hone their craft and where there is space to create, invest, and shape one’s future. Many Detroiters are glad to have all this attention and welcome the new ideas, energy, and innovation focused on their city. At the same time, this rosy scene of revival is juxtaposed with the realities of gun violence and racial segregation, coupled with displacement and disenfranchisement as a result of gentrification and political maneuvering, which makes it hard for anyone to understand what is really happening in Detroit or where they themselves might fit into this new urban economy. In the end, while each of these representations contains a truth, none of these sentiments captures the whole of this urban landscape. Detroit is a kaleidoscope of cities, constantly changing with the lens that is applied. It is a city of hope and possibilities for many, and for many more it is the city where they have become trapped and left with few options other than to watch as the world around them changes. As evidenced from the history of social unrest globally, this feeling of hopelessness can produce anxiety, disorder, and suffering that can render moot all talk and aspirations of the resilient city. In such transitioning urban landscapes, whether it be modern-day Detroit or New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1970s and 1980s, the defiant acts of guerrilla gardening and tree planting by individuals, friends, and neighbors have often paralleled the emergence of local organizations seeking to connect,support, and expand these actions. These acts and organizations provide mechanisms not simply for neighborhood revitalization but also to help ensure equitable distribution of the benefits of urban greening throughout the community. They find resonance with the South Asian Indian concept of jugaad—when government is unable or unwilling to address public welfare, the people are forced to innovate and find solutions on their own (Doshi et al. 2013). In fact, urban environmental stewardship organizations have assumed some of the roles and responsibility of government through a growing professionalization and contribution to urban governance (Connolly et al. 2013; Fisher, Campbell, and Svendsen 2012). By examining the evolution of one such organization, the Greening of Detroit (the Greening), we hope to learn how these groups evolve over time and how...


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