For 50 years, the bare patch of land between D&D Moving and Storage and MACC Development on Detroit’s eastside has sat empty or used to park moving trucks.

Neighbors faintly remember it was once a tobacco shop.  But when the 1967 Detroit riot engulfed our neighborhood, Mack Avenue went up in flames and so did the tobacco shop.  Burned beyond repair the building was torn down.  And nothing has arisen since.  Sure there has always been plans and promises to rebuild Mack Ave., but the lot remained vacant and a stark reminder that fateful day, July 23, 1967.

Today, with a grant from Detroit Future City, working hard with Pingree Park and Islandview neighbors from start to finish, from planning to implementation we are opening a pocket park for residents to meet, drink coffee, chat about the community.  We are kicking it off  by creating a beautiful garden and community space, we recently planted trees, perennials, and decorative grass and now need a name for the park.

The park is a part of The Commons, a coin laundry and coffee shop, and is the brainchild of a Detroit neighborhood working together, taking chances when no one would take a chance on us.

The communities idea of developing The Commons and park on Mack Avenue started when we asked our neighbors “what do you want in your community” going block-by-block, door-to-door. The simple act of listening to the people in the neighborhood without an agenda and being guided by their wisdom challenged us to not repeat the same history of planning efforts in Detroit, which never turned into actionable plans.

“We do great damage to people by making decisions without them that they should have been involved in, but we are losing the greatest tool we have at our disposal—the wisdom, experience, and creativity of people in their own neighborhoods.”

To do this work, we had to move from seeing residents as clients and consumers of services to supporting them as our neighbors and central actors in community change. We went beyond asking residents to weigh in to asking them to dream, design, and implement.

In order to help keep the work moving, we met frequently as neighbors and leveraged what we had: (1) blight, which we believed we could turn into value, (2) our ability to ask other funders and investors to partner, and (3) access to lots of people with a pent-up desire to change their community. Then we all decided to stay, work, and neighbor.  

The results of our journey is The Commons and a community park, in a space that everyone had forgotten.  Now we have a place to rest, chat, wait for our laundry or the bus, a place to be neighbors and enjoy beautiful flowers and wonderful conversations.  The Mack Lot is a deep commitment to living in community, resident ownership and the belief that long-term learning relationships provide the most fertile ground for change.  

The road to open a business for and by the residents in Detroit’s lower eastside has been long and rocky.  However, we committed to action and because our efforts as neighbors and residents working together, we never gave up hope.  Last week when I was watching the contractors take down the old boards of our storefront a neighbor stopped, he said, “I know you guys wanted to give up, but we knew they (powers) wasn’t gonna make it easy for us in the hood, but y’all did it.  And God blessed us we got a laundry, coffee shop, reading and sports program for the kids, and legal service, we didn’t expect all those blessings”.  (Purvis Dace)