This is the time of year we usually put Summer in the City on the shelf.
Jubilant June-July and the adrenaline of August give way to a subtly subdued September and, by October, others have oscillated into off-season occupations and, woe, winter is coming.
This year is different. Pumpkin Spice Lattes be damned. And that difference is a testament to the power of people and place.
In 2010, Summer in the City received the Jewish Fund’s Robert Sosnick Award for Excellence and, the following year, used the award to make a house at risk of foreclosure into the home of the organization.
In the years since, our historic Hubbard Farms home has housed and hosted Summer Crew, college students and recent graduates, alternative break groups and PeerCorps mentors.
This fall, for the first time, all four residents can wave to their alma mater — Western International High School, peeking through Clark Park’s copious canopy — from the front porch of 1645 Clark.
They know the virtues and vices of Southwest Detroit year-round from growing up in the neighborhood. They have committed their sweat equity and social capital — two resources abundant in the area — to making Summer in the City viable and vibrant year-round.
So, here’s Carla, Keairra, Alondra and Alondra’s and my big bold beautiful bad idea:
Back in 2012, Summer in the City bought the little house next door to the big house, knowing that it was plumbing and electrical (and then some) away from being a habitable home. We’ve kept it secure and it’s kept us dreaming, as property values have crept up and new businesses have cropped up along Vernor.
Herein lies the capacity concern. Summer in the City has built the capacity to paint and plant and play over the past 17 years, creating murals, cultivating gardens and curating youth enrichment experiences that have touched thousands of lives. While the fun, flexible, fulfilling programming happens over a festive, fleeting eight-week Season of Service, the tools and materials for these projects have unrealized capacity for community use throughout the rest of the year.
The stuff is not the scarcity. We have the stuff. And, over the 10 mothballed months that elapse between summers, those assets can be more more of a liability — lost, stolen, stashed, stacked sideways, strewn about, rusty, musty, dusty, deflated.
One thing I’ve learned doing this work: The process is the product. So we’re partnering with the Western High chapter of buildOn, a service movement, whose teens will knock on doors, survey families and visit schools in their barrio to identify unmet needs and lay the groundwork for a “lending library” of whatever we have (or can get) that folks around here are looking for: a ladder and roller to safely kick up the color on the side of your house, shovels and wheelbarrow to kickstart a community garden, a soccer ball and cones to kick off a pick-up game in the park after school.
But how will it work? Good question(s)! There will be reliable regular hours and people can text 313-444-7FUN (fun, right?) for alternative pick-up/drop-off times. Todo estará en inglés y español.
We will have a system in place to make sure (virtually) everything gets back to us and we will have some things — seeds from Keep Growing Detroit, books from Rx for Reading, mis-tint paint — that we don’t want back.
Here’s what we need:
Money. Per David Mamet, “Everyone needs money. That’s why they call it money.” Still, I’d like to think of this more as an investment than an act of charity. Or at least a more inclusive iteration of the Sharing Economy. The $50,000 it will take to rehab the house is 10 times what we paid for it. In 2012, that would have been insanity; in 2018, it’s equity. Carlos, the contractor is local (1643 Clark). With tentative tenants in the apartment upstairs, 1645 Clark will be a revenue neutral for the organization.
Stuff. We’ll have to be careful what we wish for here: In-kind donations always have some blessing-curse ratio. The first floor of the bungalow is strategically small, so we’ll find space for whatever is in the highest demand and homes for whatever doesn’t fit. Paint — diligently donated, lovingly labeled, safely sealed and artfully allocated — will be a litmus test for whether the endeavor is pH (post-hoarder) balanced.
Time. Do you love sorting, stocking, shelving, shifting, sifting and showing stuff? That makes one of us! In fact, I think this will be a really cool volunteer opportunity, in particular for families with kids who may be too young to do most community service projects and parents who want a living lesson in Maimonides’ Ladder of Tzedakah — how they can help contribute to creating a self-sufficient community.
Mr. Rogers, who knew a thing or two about being a neighbor, said: “It’s not so much what we have in this life that matters. It’s what we do with what we have.” Extra exciting to explore … what can our neighbors do with what we have?
If you are interested in 1645 Clark — Casa del Cosas? Clark Street Cooperative? — come see it for yourself at our Fall Fiesta Open House Nov. 3 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Or text/email “Nu?” to (313) 444-7FUNfirstname.lastname@example.org. And speaking of real estate, check out the new look summerinthecity.com.