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The Grand + Woodward Corridor: Collaboration as Innovation

Khalilah Burt Gaston
Khalilah Burt Gaston -
By Khalilah Burt Gaston
November 22, 2013

I often say collaboration is the most innovative “thing” Detroit needs right now. I know most people are probably thinking this pales in comparison to more pressing matters such as the city’s lack of financial solvency, the challenge in preparing Detroit youth for tomorrow’s opportunities, the creation of regional transit system, or even implementing recommendations to help transform our neighborhoods. 

While these big ideas are all deserving of our collective attention and action, our greatest challenge many times is not defining what we want to achieve, but determining how we can best work together to attain the yet unattainable.

As the new Executive Director of Vanguard Community Development Corporation, the Convening Agency for the Grand + Woodward Building Sustainable Communities Initiative, one of my greatest joys is collaborating with residents, businesses, and institutions along the Grand + Woodward Corridor to implement a cohesive plan for community development. With support from Detroit LISC, nearly 300 stakeholders created a Quality of Life Plan to identify common priorities, guide investment, and galvanize stakeholders to leverage their collective action to neighborhoods aligned along the intersection of East Grand Boulevard and Woodward Avenue. True revitalization has been stymied in this area of the City for decades due to uneven investment patterns, which often perpetuate continual disinvestment east of Woodward Avenue, and result in competition, not collaboration.

Unfortunately, blight, crime, and other factors inhibiting the quality of life in our neighborhoods, know no boundaries.  Stakeholders now recognize the time is now to come together—despite a past filled with missed opportunities for revitalization and years of legacy issues. And that’s innovative. 

In our first year, we’ve collaborated with residents and a broad range of stakeholders including Whole Foods, Excellent Schools Detroit, ProsperUs, Life Remodeled, Quicken Loans, United Way of Southeast Michigan, Midtown Montessori, Henry Ford Health Systems, Detroit Land Bank, and Arise Detroit to implement strategies aligned with the Grand + Woodward Quality of Life Plan and learned many lessons building our collective capacity truly work together. Here are a few:
1)    Push past your comfort zone. The best collaborations are inclusive of people from all sectors and walks of life. If everyone looks the same, thinks the same or has the same skills and background, the outcomes will be just that—the same.
2)    Be clear regarding expectations and priorities. Ambiguity kills effective collaboration by leaving many details to personal interpretation. As much as possible, communicate in writing and document roles and responsibilities with familiar and new partners alike.
3)    Identify opportunities to build and rebuild trust. Believe it or not, mistakes will be made. Acknowledge the mistake, extend professional courtesy and commit to beginning anew for the betterment of our City.

For updates on the Grand + Woodward Corridor and the Building Sustainable Communities Initiative visit www.grandwoodward.com.
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