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Better Block Detroit

416 Burroughs
Detroit, Michigan

Alessandra Carreon

By Amanda Lewan
February 14, 2014

Block by block we are connected as a community and as a city. In Detroit, not all of these blocks are in the best conditions. The Detroit Better Block team aims to really get the community together to re-envision areas of the city, one block party at a time.

Alessandra Carreon first learned about the Better Block program when she saw the founder of the national nonprofit speak at a conference. The program was able to help turn around an old movie theatre in Dallas by hosting community events. When Alessandra moved to Detroit in 2012, she decided to bring the initiative with her.

"One of the things Better Block really does is help the people understand what the block could be, based on community interests," says Alessandra.

Alessandra and a local group approached the US Green Building Council of Detroit to help host the very first Better Block event in Detroit. The event brings together different community groups, including artists, business owners, and residents to engage in activities reimagining the local area.

In June 2012, the group held Michigan's first Better Block project in Detroit. The focus was to find more sustainable ways of living in the community. Hosted on the North End of Detroit during the Detroit Design Festival, they worked with local groups to find out community needs.

During the event, areas of the block were cleaned up, improved, and discussed.

"We had visual work done on the block, beautification, and programming for the weekend with food, yoga, and a community fair," says Alessandra.

In 2013, the group held their second Better Block event in an old market area called the Windmill Market, setting up huge solar panel displays to imagine what this area would look like with greener initiatives in place.

Alessandra currently works full time in sustainability at Ford. She grew up in both the United States and Italy and never really claimed any one city as her home.

"I always grew up feeling the environment belonged to everyone. As a result, I am very drawn to cities," she said.

She studied Chemical Engineering at the Rice University in Houston and went on to receive an MBA at the University of Michigan. As an engineer, Alessandra says it’s exciting to see all of the research and knowledge available to create more sustainable ways of living.  She passionately believes that now more than ever Detroit can begin to further these discussions into an actionable plan.

"I’m not joking when I say that Detroit could very likely become American’s greenest city," she says. "Everything we need is already present. We just need to repurpose it. We can adapt to our environment instead of forcing our environment to adapt to our unsustainable consumption and usage."

In Detroit, she believes we are at a pivotal moment where we can create new systems and organizations focused on more sustainable urban living.

 "We tend to see the open spaces as something that doesn’t fit our idea of a city, but it very well could mean cities are changing," said Alessandra. "We can make it a place that’s thriving and not as concrete and bad for the environment."

Change doesn’t happen effectively all at once, but block by block we might begin to see sustainable improvements. Detroit could help redefine what a sustainable urban city means. 

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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Related Resources

  • Wayne State University
    Founded in 1868, Wayne State University is a nationally recognized metropolitan research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 29,000 students.
  • Detroit Design Festival
    Presented by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (“DC3”), DDF is a community curated and supported design festival developed to showcase the talents and abilities of Detroit’s creative communities.