By Sean Copeland, Contributing Writer
The city of Detroit has experienced a great resurgence over the last ten years. Residential developments are being made, retail space is becoming more available, and office spaces are sprouting up in downtown and Midtown. The city has gained rave reviews for its recent developments, and rightfully so.
For a city that once filed for bankruptcy, Detroit is certainly rewriting its comeback story. This isn’t the same Detroit from the 1980s or even 1990s. But as great as it’s been to witness all the success in Midtown and downtown, what about the surrounding neighborhoods?
The city is made up of many colorful and vibrant neighborhoods, from Brush Park and Cass Corridor to Sherwood Forest and Mexicantown. Currently, there are hundreds of city-registered block clubs, coalitions, and community associations inside Detroit. Last May, Axios Detroit reported that there are about 573 registered block clubs per Erinn Harris, deputy director of Detroit’s Department of Neighborhoods. Unfortunately, certain neighborhoods aren’t seeing as much success as others when it comes to cleanup, safety enforcement, and crime reduction as others. But there are many community leaders who are stepping up to the plate to get the job done. It takes a team of dedicated leaders who tirelessly fight for the enjoyment and quality of Life for their residents. For Happy Homes Community Association, a smaller but mighty organization, their story is one that has been active for over a decade.
A True Community Leader
Charlotte Blackwell is very active in her community and has a passion for urban planning. One of her favorite pieces of conversation is pondering on how Detroit can realize its full potential. When talking to Blackwell, you can sense her passion, vision for improvement, and ambition, and it truly shows in her vision and community work. Graduating with a master’s degree in urban planning from Wayne State University, she has dedicated much of her time to improving her neighborhood and the surrounding areas. Currently, she is the Community Engagement Manager at Brilliant Detroit Littlefield, located on Detroit’s northwest side.
In her position, Blackwell oversees the day-to-day activities of the community house, including after-school programs and providing meals for students who attend. In the Happy Homes area, Blackwell says there are various youth programs where youth can find enrichment and positive experiences.
“Adam Butzel offers an array of various programs for kids, adults, and senior citizens alike. The recreation center has a robust ice-skating program, year-round swimming, and basketball, just to name a few,” she shares. In addition to her work there, she also serves as president of the Happy Homes Community Association. The association was originally founded in the early 1980s but was reassembled in 2012. City records have listed the area as being named the Happy Homes Subdivision. The neighborhood is on Detroit’s northwest side and is inside District 7. It is bordered by Schaefer and Meyers from the west and east to Lyndon and Schoolcraft on the north and south sides.
Over time, Blackwell has overseen various efforts, including area cleanups, tree planting, block parties, and more. In addition to Happy Homes, she collaborates regularly with other associations, including Northwest Community Block Club, Pride Area Community Council and Paved Way, Littlefield Community Association, Birwood House, and Birwood Block Club. All these organizations form an informal coalition that supports development efforts in the northwest area of Detroit. In addition to these, Blackwell sometimes volunteers for Life Remodeled, an organization that refurbishes vacant buildings into opportunity hubs that provide economic empowerment, youth educational opportunities, and community resources. She also works with area churches in the city for various causes. In addition to all of this, Blackwell works closely with the 2nd Precinct Councilman Fred Durhal III of District 7 and its management.
As many Detroiters know, crime reports have long plagued the city, but in recent times, rates have dropped drastically. In December, the city of Detroit reported that the city ended 2023 with the lowest number of homicides in 57 years. Homicides, nonfatal shootings, and carjackings were down considerably, with a combined percentage of 50 percent. Blackwell, along with other community leaders, has rallied efforts to ensure the reduction of crime and the safety of residents.
“We have garnered and maintained a strong relationship with the 2nd Precinct. Sgt. Jackson and other officers always encourage us to inform them of any issues that need to be addressed and they work hard to resolve these matters as best they can.” Blackwell says.
In the past few years, many residents have complained that the police presence and response time seem to be scarce or even nonexistent. In December, Metro Times reported that “Detroit was down as many as 300 officers” in 2022, causing the city to develop an extensive campaign to hire more officers to combat the shortage. Happy Homes, like many other areas, has been affected by this, and Blackwell tries to be understanding. “Do we need more of a presence and better response time? Of course. Most inner-city neighborhoods do because the police department never has enough manpower to meet the demand. At least we have their attention and are on their radar. We all work together to attempt to make our area safer,” she says.
Alongside Blackwell’s bubbly and exuberant personality, she is always welcoming to the idea of how others can get involved in the cleanup and maintenance of the area. Residents and outsiders have been able to come and help on her event days without a formal signup. Never one to shy away from a challenge, she is a hands-on worker who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty while working alongside her members. If residents wonder how they can better get involved with improving their neighborhoods, Blackwell is open to help.
“Residents can contribute to the cause by simply taking pride in their community by taking care of home and policing one another to ensure that everyone enjoys the same quality of life as our suburban counterparts,” she says.
A Call For Change
As an urban planner functioning in all these roles, Blackwell says that she is grateful for the support she has received from the city thus far. “We truly appreciate the relationship we’ve forged with the city.” While she feels that the city has supported their efforts at Happy Homes, she also says there needs to be more support given to the neighborhoods, an idea that many residents share.
“As an urban planner, I understand the development process and the premise that every great city has a thriving central downtown area. However, far more attention is needed, not only in the Happy Homes Community but also in the city in general. We would never diminish the support we’ve received but there’s always room for improvement.” Blackwell expresses that as much attention, if not more, should be given to the neighborhoods as each area should benefit from the efforts given to the central areas of Midtown and Downtown. While social media has promoted the efforts of some of the lesser-known community associations, traditionally, Happy Homes and other smaller areas in the city have often gone unnoticed, and Blackwell, as well as others, is hoping that this will change.
“Yes, we have had fair representation in social media. Although there have been occasions that we have been in the spotlight, we know that more attention is given to more affluent communities such as Grandmont Rosedale or Sherwood Forest,” she said. “Again, we work very closely with the city, other community groups, and affiliates in our surrounding area which has afforded us the opportunity to be in the spotlight more than other grassroots community groups.”
Throughout it all, Blackwell will continue to serve her community through her various efforts. She says her biggest accomplishment so far has been the partnership with Life Remodeled to clean up the Happy Homes neighborhood, and they provided sizable funding for future community projects and development. As for those who would like to join Happy Homes, Blackwell says she can be contacted via email at email@example.com and is always open to new volunteers in the area who would like to serve.