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The Canfield Consortium, a neighborhood organization in East Canfield Village on Detroit’s east side, is one of eight teams across North America awarded funding through the Salazar Center’s Thriving Cities Challenge. The group placed second in the challenge and was awarded $50,000 to “activate” an alleyway in their neighborhood to promote sustainability and improve the quality of life.
The alley, located off Warren Avenue and French Road, is located five blocks west of the Stellantis Mack Assembly Plant. The project will host an expanded rain garden, a council circle and a community tool shed to start. Canfield Consortium also aims to host a small business as a pilot project which would operate out of a garage or within the alleyway, with a vision of reimagining the alleyway as an incubator space for small businesses using garages that are no longer in use.
“The alley can become a learning phase and a model for what a more circular economy might look like while at the same time making tangible improvements in local environments that matter to people,” said Paul Draus, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan Dearborn who served as an advisor for the project. “Having a safe and beautiful walking path that’s accessible for older people and children becomes appealing to a lot of people.”
The alleyway now features a rain garden and mural. Partners involved with the project include the Canfield Consortium, DAVIS, Draus and the Wildlife Habitat Council.
Sisters Rhonda and Kim Theus co-founded the Canfield Consortium and grew up in the East Canfield neighborhood. Rhonda Theus told Planet Detroit the area was once a “very thriving and self-sustaining community.” Like many other neighborhoods in the city, disinvestment led to a decline, leading Rhonda and Kim back to their childhood stomping grounds to do something about it.
Canfield Consortium’s mission is to “restore the East Canfield community to a contemporary, healthy, thriving and inspiring urban community.”
“We deserve a nice quality of life, and we deserve a beautiful neighborhood in which to live. So, that is the foundation of our organization,” Rhonda Theus said.
Korey L. Batey, president of Detroit Ain’t Violent It’s Safe (DAVIS), connected with the Canfield Consortium through his work as a community liaison for the City of Detroit’s alleyway clean-up project. Batey helped the Theuses bring their vision to fruition using experience from other alleyway projects he’s worked on across the city.
Rhonda Theus is hoping the project serves as a template for future alleyway activation across the city. The project proposal describes the “potential for replication throughout the city, ultimately creating a green capillary system that significantly contributes to municipal sustainability goals as well as neighborhood cultural, social and economic life.”
“If you have an opportunity to be in a community in which you’d also be able to start a business within your own backyard that’s connected with the neighbors, that could that help create another [reason] why more people are going to be moving into our communities and how they can to contribute to our communities,” said Batey.
Batey told Planet Detroit his group has helped clean up about 2,700 of an estimated 7000 alleyways across the city so far through the city’s program. Projects like the Canfield alley activation are the next step in imagining possibilities for the spaces once they are cleared of debris and overgrown vegetation.
“The future outcome of this is to be able to equip legacy communities… to help create a culture, identity and what that space can look and feel like,” said Batey.
Research and development for the Canfield Consortium alleyway project included looking into how other communities across the city and the country are approaching alleyway activation.
Draus points to a range of alleyway activation projects — from promoting sustainability in Chicago, to incorporating an artistic approach in Los Angeles.
The Canfield alleyway is not the only activation project in the city. The Alley Project in Southwest Detroit focuses on community, art and culture, while an alleyway on Detroit’s northwest side focuses on recreational use and pollinator gardens. Rescue MI Nature Now on Detroit’s northeast side is using their alleyways as “naturalized biodiversity corridors,” says Draus.
Theus plans to document the process so that other communities can mirror what they’ve done.
“When we were growing up, alleys were social spaces,” Theus told Planet Detroit. “We used to play as kids in the alleys, we used to barbecue in the alley and had meeting spaces in the alley. But now that they’ve been cleaned out, we can start to activate them.”
You can follow the progress of Canfield Consortium’s project on Facebook, Instagram, or through their website.
Apply as a neighborhood group to have an alleyway in your neighborhood cleaned out here.
This story was produced with support from the Race and Justice Reporting Initiative at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University.