By Matthew Kredell
Undergraduate students at the USC Price School of Public Policy had the opportunity to travel to Detroit to assist organizations that are taking part in one of the most ambitious and urgent revitalization efforts in the country.
For the second summer in a row, Price undergraduate students got to see firsthand the decline of the Motor City and the attempts being made to turn it around. The capstone lab was part of USC Price’s Learning to Excel Academically and Professionally (LEAP) program, which provides real-world training for students by visiting and working in the places they study.
“This is a city that used to have two million people and now has 700,000 with a complete destruction of the city in terms of providing public services,” said adjunct faculty member John Loper, who taught the course. “Detroit is having a problem with street lights, trash pickup, police and basic things most cities do. You drive through Detroit and block after block is abandoned.
“There are lots of groups trying to bring back the city from the private, public and nonprofit sectors, which makes it an interesting area of study that appeals to students in all tracts at USC Price,” he added.
Joining Loper to oversee the trip were Price Associate Professor Liz Falletta and Donnajean Ward, director of programs and outreach at the USC Bedrosian Center on Governance.
The 15 students had the option to work on a project for Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, which is planning and designing a cafe and community space and reuse of a vacant building at the Thome Rivertown neighborhood, or to help Michigan Community Resources with a master plan for the redevelopment of the Mount Elliott Industrial area.
On June 25, the students presented their findings to representatives from both nonprofit organizations.
For the Mount Elliott area master plan, student Evelyn Thompson focused on improvements in education, Mitchell Vieyra on workforce development, Albert Blanck on the best locations to prepare for commercial retail and dining, Jeff Glenning on using vacant industrial space for indoor vertical farming, and Sarahi Ortega and Alicia Ogoms on applying renewable energy.
Three students provided different visions for Coleman A. Young Airport, which hasn’t served a commercial plane since 2000. Jeremy Smith suggested reusing the existing infrastructure as a community park with retail space; Morgan Link recommended renovating it to attract back commercial planes; and Kevin Carroll proposed converting the space for military use and drone testing.
“It made the trip much more meaningful and motivated everyone to really put their all into the projects, knowing there’s a good chance that our recommendations will be taken into account and make a real difference,” said Blanck, who will be entering his junior year in the fall. “It’s exciting to be in Detroit because there’s the space and resources to make a change, and I’m sure in the next five to 10 years the city is going to be completely different.”
Jill Ferrari, CEO of Michigan Community Resources, watched the presentations live via webcast.
“I think there were some really great ideas, and we are so grateful for all the work you have done,” Ferrari said. “A lot of the best practices and case studies are really helpful for us.”
Nathan Keup, director of real estate development for Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, made the trip out to Los Angeles to view the Rivertown presentations and guest lecture on the topic of senior housing and care communities development.
“The students bring a whole different perspective to an area that’s been envisioned and planned by those who live in the area,” Keup said. “To have that fresh perspective from a different part of the country is very unique and gives us a lot to think about as we continue to plan for this community.”
Students Jake Adler and Maya Tuvia focused their projects on designing and planning a cafe on which Presbyterian Villages of Michigan is close to beginning construction; Keup was impressed by Adler’s suggestion for a communal library where patrons can donate and borrow books on the honor system. Sean Navi and Josh Mehraban spoke on improving the streetscape of the area to promote walkability, which includes three schools and an affordable continuing care requirement community.
For a vacant building Presbyterian Villages of Michigan is looking to reuse, Nikolai Beshkov proposed making it into an athletic center, while Nicole Bosetti suggested a tutoring space where the seniors could provide after-school help to the elementary school students.
“In the short term, we were planning to lease it out for commercial storage, and the students’ ideas provide options that promote community-building, which is a key goal of the Thome Rivertown Neighborhood,” Keup said.
Link could see herself taking Ferrari up on her offer to help all the students find work in Detroit after she completes her degree in December.
“Going in, you hear all about the challenges Detroit is facing, but I left there so inspired that I personally would move there after I graduate,” Link said. “You walk the streets and you can tell how planning was not really thought about much back in the day, but people are making such an effort now to turn it around and incorporate urban planning.”