The following post was written by Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. (Green Economy Leadership Training) program participant Kate Powers:
I am working with several other participants on a project that is part of Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. program called Operation We Squat.
Our project is one of four G.E.L.T. group projects taking place over the course of nine weeks, the others focusing on solar energy, urban agriculture and waste repurposing, respectively.
G.E.L.T. aims to build a new, clean energy economy in Highland Park through education, training, and community participation. Major aspects of G.E.L.T. include permaculture, renewable energy, and infrastructure redevelopment. This program centers around improving people’s lives by creating a healthy economic and social community in Highland Park by using a sustainable model that can be repeated in other cities around the country.
Operation We Squat plans to address a major problem in post-industrial cities– abandoned, rundown houses. The usual response to this problem is demolition of the residence, dumping the materials into landfills. This process is energy-demanding and labor insensitive while preventing community advancement and adding little long-term value to the city. O.W.S. wants to demonstrate an alternative solution to abandoned homes in urban areas. The project plans to find the most effective ways to transform neglected houses into beneficial, sustainable representations of community.
The time frame of this project is June 7th to August 7th. The house: 76 Grove Street. The GELTers involved are Lauren, Matt, Mike, and myself (Kate). The team leads are Marion and Scott.
On Thursday, the group assembled and visited 76 Grove Street, for most of us it was our first time. Overgrown grass and weeds engulfed the yard while trash and broken glass filled the alleyway. Inside was not much better, the first floor consisted of discarded furniture and boarded up windows. After viewing the basement and the second floor it was evident that previous squatters had allowed their pet(s) to run wild.
For me, the most disheartening part of the house was not the dirt and grim or the broken windows and furniture, it was the deserted, child-made mother’s day card and the baby furniture and bottles left behind. The house was not completely vacated but rather it was almost as if, in the words of Marion, a hurricane came through destroying the inside of the home, taking the residents with it, but leaving traces of the family’s life. Lauren even found a film strip containing family photos– the family members that once lived in the house are now like ghosts, their abandoned possessions just glimpses of their past lives.
A few first impressions from the group are as follow:
- Marion- Transformation through community and group cooperation
- Matt- 76 Grove has a lot of potential
- Mike- Great importance in having the home be a “community space with function”
- As a group we decided that the first step of our project would be to cut the grass and have a bulk clean-up/trash pick-up as well as engage the community in some ways to include their input in the project.
Group Roles are as follow:
- Marion: Timeline/Vision/Oversee
- Scott: Resources/Oversee
- Lauren: Community outreach
- Mike: Find sources of inspiration/Similar models in the area
- Matt: Internal workings of the house
- Kate: Front and back yard/Story creation
If all goes as planned Operation We Squat will improve the lives and environment of Grove Street community members. However, in order for this project to have more than just an isolated impact on Grove Street, the steps taken must be repeatable and act as a model for the greater Detroit area, Michigan, and other parts of the United States. So as things progress, I’ll blog again about this project and the steps we’re taking to transform an abandoned house into something that can strengthen a community and create more sustainable systems within a city. Who knows, maybe sharing our story will aid others involved in similar conquests.
Until next time,