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Osborn Neighborhood Alliance

13560 East McNichols
Detroit, Michigan 48205

Wayne Ramocan

By Tunde Wey
October 10, 2012

In a neighborhood that is home to around 9,000 youth, what does one park mean? In a community where about 42 percent of the households earn less than $35,000, what difference can 471 newly-planted trees make? And in a city in which growth or decline is measured only with cold, hard statistics, how can a community reclaim the narrative? The northeast Detroit neighborhood of Osborn is an important lesson in the value of more qualitative and collaborative approach to evaluating community.
The predicament of the neighborhood is tough. According to a recent neighborhood profile compiled by Data Driven Detroit, it consistently underperforms in leading demographic indicators such as safety, economic security, health, housing and transportation outcomes when measured against Detroit (which is a notoriously poorer performer than most other large cities). With a resident population of 27,166 there are a lot of needs to be met, and even fewer resources to meet them.
In the face of city service cutbacks, severe economic hardships, and a general decline in quality of life, local organizations stepped in to meet residents’ needs. However, the mechanistic approach that evolved in response to the challenges facing the community gave rise to many well-meaning organizations working in silos. These organizations, although working to help residents, were without a process to effectively organize and coordinate their efforts, while efficiently delivering resources to the residents.
The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance (ONA) is connecting these silos. Wayne Ramocan, Program Coordinator at ONA says, “We rely heavily on partnerships; our successes cannot be attributed to ONA only. They should be thought of as successes of the Osborn community as a whole with ONA and or Skillman playing a huge role.”

ONA is part of The Skillman Good Neighborhoods Initiative. The initiative, launched in 2006, is a 10-year, $100-million program that focuses on six Detroit neighborhoods including Osborn. Forging partnerships with public and private entities, community residents and stakeholders, ONA is working to create a neighborhood where kids are safe, healthy, well-educated and prepared for adulthood. The Beland Manning Park restoration project is one such example of ONA's mission in practice.
The run-down playscape and unfettered wild lawn (at times growing shoulder-high) were not deterrent enough for some of the neighborhood kids who played tag football in the derelict Beland Manning Park. Arnetha Reynolds, a resident of the area, decided to do something about the park’s state, particularly the playground. She approached ONA and the organization immediately went to work to identify partnerships and galvanize resources towards the park’s rehabilitation.

ONA contacted KABOOM, a national nonprofit that helps communities build playscapes. KABOOM, with funding from Foresters Insurance, coordinated with ONA to install a new playscape based on designs from neighborhood kids. The installation took 13 hours and 362 volunteers— including Osborn neighborhood residents, KABOOM and Foresters staff, city and county officials, and community organizations. 192 trees were also planted in the park with the help of Greening of Detroit. Through this project ONA was able to establish relationships and coordinate various actors to accomplish a much needed community goal.

Building on their momentum, ONA extended its partnership with Greening of Detroit to plant more trees throughout neighborhood; to date they have planted a total of 471 trees together.
Ramocan says the rehabilitated playscape has engendered a new sense of community around the park: “The block clubs and the residents around the park have taken ownership of the park—the programming in the park is done by the neighborhood. The reason why this is important is because our role is to build capacity so after these 10 years are over the residents and the organizations can take control of their neighborhood.”
ONA employs an empathetic brand of local capacity building; it sees its work as supporting residents and neighborhood organizations. The payoff to this approach has been wide-ranging and meaningful. Together with community partners, ONA has assisted in initiating, promoting and supporting youth employment preparation and opportunities, food pantries and at-home delivery services for senior citizens, youth tutoring, and arts and culture programming.
Also, ONA is working to fundamentally affect education in the neighborhood. Along with Excellent Schools Detroit, they are enlisting parents to create a list of educational standards for neighborhood schools. With the education system going through radical changes, these parents are insisting on certain baseline, non-negotiable criteria for defining acceptable schools in the community. With ONA and Excellent Schools, the parents are conferring on how to make these standards enforceable.
Ramocan is eager for these critical connections to continue to empower the community. He sees ONA as driven by a simple but powerful idea. “We want this neighborhood to be a community of choice—where businesses want to do business, residents want to live and people want to raise their kids,” he says. Through the connections ONA is helping activate, it is creating opportunities for Osborn’s future success as a community where people choose to live.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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