A Glimpse of Urban Revitalization in Detroit

| Shelley Stern Grach

Shelley-Stern-Grach_DACWhat’s the first sign of urban revitalization? Cranes, Constructions, and human activity. This was my thrilled reaction when I visited Detroit last month to meet with key members of the Civic Tech and Digital Literacy communities. As noted in my “Va-room, Va-room” blog a couple months ago, there is a palpable, exciting tone to what is happening in Detroit.  My first visual observation-lots of cranes and construction: new urban transportation system going in; a completely renovated Detroit Athletic Club with amazing views of Tiger Stadium and the city. People I met with reinforced that rental occupancy in Detroit is at 98+%, there is a  resurgence of youth/tech to downtown and Midtown and the urban planners are looking at Corktown area (site of the old Stadium) as the possible next “development wave”. Things are happening here.

Renaissance Center

Microsoft is honored to be helping to support some of this resurgence in energy and we hope to be able to support a few of the local organizations which focus on accelerating economic development at the neighborhood level through increasing digital literacy and citizens interacting with city services through technology. Many thanks to the wonderful team at LISC Detroit for being our guide. Detroit LISC provides capital, technical expertise, training, and information to develop local leadership in creating affordable housing, spurring economic development, and supporting safe neighborhoods. Their goal is help neighbors build communities of choice where families and individuals can live, do business, have access to quality educational opportunities, and play. Since 1990, DetroitLISC has invested over $182.8M and leveraged over $800M in Detroit.

Mercado Detroit

We visited the SouthWest side of Detroit and again saw a hotbed of communities coming together through updated housing, computer labs and programs focusing on digital skills and entrepreneurship. We were excited by the enthusiasm of the nonprofit community leaders like Southwest Housing Solutions. We fell in love with The Mercado which is an amazing community center for the entire family range. There is a wonderful outdoor gathering space, a well set up computer lab and all sorts of activities inside. Our local Citizenship team lead, Donna Bank-Hoglen, sees The Mercado as a wonderful space for future Hour of Code programs, and digital skills programs through Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative.

We met with City officials and will be working on programs that focus on open data and transparency, and helping to improve better information both internally and externally to redefine city government relationship with citizens. This is an exciting moment in the time of the Detroit Civic Tech community. The city is mapping out the various relationships that make up the Detroit Civic Tech movement and we are looking forward to being of assistance.

Detroit Civic Tech

We had a great session with Erica Raleigh at Data Driven Detroit (D3). D3’s motto is to provide accessible, high-quality information and analysis to drive informed decision-making. To that end, Erica and her team are working on a series of programs that include workshops at the local community level to understand local needs, and use data to accelerate local decisions and improved interaction with programs for citizens.

Data Driven Detroit

Many thanks to Regina Campbell for a great tour and update at the amazing improvements at TechTownDetroit, whose motto: “We Mean Business” is clearly evident. I had last visited TechTown a couple years ago and oh, what a difference! From the terrific design of the accelerator space, to the hubbub of activity, it’s clear that TechTown is making its mark as a place and space for innovation.

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Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.