The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced support for U-M Taubman College students and faculty to work in partnership with the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm to advance Detroit’s historic North End neighborhood. The cooperative effort combines private support with university and community expertise to transform a vacant residence into a design resource library and community hub.
Through the $405,000 grant, faculty will design and adaptively reuse an existing building that will exist as part of the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm in the North End. In partnership with Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, Taubman College will transform a vacant residence into a community-centered design library and meeting space — one that’s run entirely with community support and input. Funds will also provide ongoing support for programming and staffing.
Faculty will collaborate on design, planning, and development projects with Detroit-based architecture and urban design studio Akoaki — led by Anya Sirota, Taubman College’s associate dean for academic initiatives and associate professor of architecture. The project builds on an ongoing effort, five years in the works, to realize a civic commons. The goal is to help the Oakland Avenue farm reimagine and realize six acres of the North End as a vibrant landscape with cultural infrastructure that benefits residents and mission-driven organizations alike.
“Our hope is that this project offers a valuable resource to the North End and continues to build on all of the positive things happening in the community,” said Sirota, co-principal of Akoaki. “This facility’s place as a piece of permanent infrastructure will provide the community and the university the opportunity to learn from one another for years to come and help realize the broader vision of a civic commons in the area.”
Akoaki has been working with the farm since 2015, involving many Taubman College students and alumni in a multidisciplinary effort to transform it into an experimental urban prototype for equitable regeneration. The plan combines agricultural production, cultural activity, business incubation, and ecological stewardship to envision a neo-rural landscape that is both economically and ecologically sustainable.
The new Knight Foundation-supported work with the farm is the latest example of U-M’s efforts to work in partnership with the people, community leaders, businesses, and organizations in Detroit through a wide network of programs and initiatives that emphasize mutual benefit and partnership. The cooperative efforts combine the university’s expertise with that of people who live and work throughout Detroit to address some of the city and region’s most pressing challenges in education, business, healthcare, and more.
As part of the Knight Foundation’s investment in Detroit, today it also announced a gift to Vanguard Community Development Corporation to support equitable development in the North End by transforming the 10-block East Grand Boulevard streetscape, the gateway into the North End community, into a cohesive, attractive and pedestrian-friendly corridor. Vanguard will gather community input at every stage of the process as they work to redesign and beautify the street, including adding wayfinding and other signage.
“We believe that you can’t invest in a place without investing in the people who live there,” said Nate Wallace, Knight’s Detroit program director. “These projects are helping the North End community shape its own future, build resiliency and feel more connected to the area, and we’re proud to help support them.”
“The North End is at the dawn of a new, important era,” said Jerry Ann Hebron, a long-time North End resident who is Oakland Avenue Urban Farm’s director. “As we build a place that more North End residents are involved with and proud of, and as more community needs are served, we know the North End will thrive.”