University outreach programs can play a key role in urban redevelopment

Universities such as MSU, UM and Wayne State have active outreach programs that can help in community redevelopment and other areas

The state of Michigan has more than 100 colleges and universities that provide a variety of training and degrees. While all these schools might not have active outreach programs, many of them do, especially the larger universities such as Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. The land grant status of MSU and Michigan State University Extension allows it to have an active Extension program that provides community-based programming, a role it’s played for more than 100 years.

Schools that provide business degrees, planning and construction degrees, social service, or community development/organizing degrees can be helpful to urban areas. For example, MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction provides real-word practicum classes to their students. These practicum programs allow students to connect with community-based and other organizations to create community plans and other needed reports.

One such example is the St. Martha’s Project of Detroit. This community-based effort involved approximately 15 community organizations who were working on the redevelopment of a 22,000-square-foot church located near the intersection of Joy and Greenfield roads. Eight MSU students participated in the project and at the conclusion of the semester they produced a 131-page document called the St. Martha’s Commons Community Vision. The plan includes potential redevelopment opportunities for the church structure as well as invaluable community statistics and potential redesign plans for projects located adjacent to the church. The report allows the community planning team to capture critical neighborhood information that can now be used to secure additional funds for the project as well as articulate a vision for the redevelopment of the church and the church grounds.

While such efforts are not completely free, the nominal costs can allow community-based groups to develop the much-needed documents and neighborhood data required to move projects forward. Such programs can prove to be invaluable in neighborhoods where the organizations’ lack the funding and staff to develop such information.

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