March 01 2013

Forty Miles from Eight Mile: University of Michigan Engaged with Detroit

Detroit Partnership Day 2012

The University of Michigan is a world-class university with its main campus in the idyllic small-town Ann Arbor, Michigan. Students and Ann Arbor natives often refer to their little slice of heaven as “28 square miles surrounded by reality.” The reality coming to mind now is the high poverty, crime, and population decline plaguing Detroit, Michigan, just forty miles away. And while many UM students may be content continuing to ignore those realities, many academic spheres at the University are working to raise awareness and draw the “leaders and best” to Detroit.

As a former Global Site Plans contributor Alexandria Stankovich has pointed out, it makes sense for architecture and urban planning students at the University of Michigan and other Detroit area universities, to take advantage of Detroit as an “urban laboratory.” And while the Taubman College of Architecture at the University of Michigan has a wide variety of lecture series and design-related activities focusing on Detroit, other academic departments and student groups at the University are taking it upon themselves to widen the base of interest in Detroit’s revival. Academic programs like the Semester in Detroit or student groups that organize weekly volunteers in Detroit like the Detroit Partnership, are geared toward the social justice-minded university student, promoting the collaborative effort needed to tackle Detroit’s problems from all angles.

Semester in Detroit at University of Michigan

The Semester in Detroit is an academic program through the University of Michigan’s Residential College that seeks to educate students on the history and challenges of Detroit today, while engaging students in hands-on internship experiences in organizations across the city, from small businesses like City Bird store and art gallery to non-profits like the Eastern Market Corporation. The Detroit Partnership, on the other hand, is a student-run organization that seeks to foster long-lasting relationships between the University and Detroit communities by engaging student volunteers in activities ranging from tutoring for Detroit Public School students to teaching ESL classes at local community centers.

The Detroit Partnership also organizes an annual day of action for students unable to commit to a weekly engagement. Going beyond the obvious need for innovative planning practices, by having students engaged in issues ranging from education to homelessness, University of Michigan graduates can leave dreamy Ann Arbor ready to address the wide variety of problems in Detroit today.

What are other ways university students can engage with their region’s social and planning issues?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Meg Mulhall

Meg Mulhall is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She calls Kalamazoo, Michigan her hometown but is currently exploring community organizing and urban planning efforts in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan. Planning to pursue a degree in either public policy or political science, Meg is interested in the relationship between government and non-governmental organizations and how those relationships can help remedy the lack of responsible and smart planning-related policies.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 1st, 2013 at 9:28 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Education and Careers, Government/Politics, Housing, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “Forty Miles from Eight Mile: University of Michigan Engaged with Detroit”

  1. Ann Bee Says:

    It’s wonderful to read how others value engagement with Detroit, but I wonder if instead of thinking of a living, breathing city of individuals as a “lab,” we could think of the city as a neighbor? Many service-learning avenues at University of Michigan, including The Detroit Partnership, Semester in Detroit and organizations such as the Ginsberg Center, engage students with Detroit with the understanding that the University must enter and exit the city as respectfully as grandchildren would enter and exit their grandmother’s living room. Detroit is much more than a space to test theories and teach students, it is a city of people with whom we need to build relationships. The university can work alongside Detroiters to understand the challenges facing Southeastern Michigan and the Rust Belt, and to co-develop community-based solutions.

  2. Meg Mulhall Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Ann. I think that’s a great point that I was trying to get at with this post. Detroit may provide a great platform for students of urban planning to observe and test things they’ve heard in the classroom, but programs like Semester in Detroit and the Detroit Partnership are engaging students more intimately with their Detroit neighbors. Through weekly volunteer engagement or a semester interning with a local organization, I think students are building deeper relationships that may bring them back to the community once they graduate from UM. Also, these programs engage students from all backgrounds and academic interests so they can bring a unique perspective to any and all issues that may be plaguing Detroit, not just planning issues at their most basic level.

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