What & Why RecoveryPark exists to create jobs for people with barriers to employment.
RecoveryPark is far more than urban agriculture and job opportunities. It will become the anchor for a larger development that will not only include urban farms, but education and support centers, commercial and housing development and other “to be determined” projects that will enhance the community as a whole. Everything that occurs in the RecoveryPark project once the groundbreaking occurs will be accomplished as much as possible by “recovering people” and those individuals, small/medium/large businesses and agencies within the boundaries of the community.
The designs for this community stem from a common belief that in order to truly treat addiction and all the social ills that are associated with it, you need to view it as a lifelong, chronic condition requiring different levels of care and support over time. Embracing this is paramount to understanding the theory behind RecoveryPark. We believe that a complete Recovery Oriented System of Care (ROSC) is necessary to transform addicted and other impacted individuals into happier, healthier and more self-sufficient citizens. As an extension, changed lives translate into seeds being planted for transforming Detroit into more diverse and vibrant communities whose brightest days lie in the future. What we practice and believe today will become tomorrow’s reality.
RecoveryPark is about empowering people to take control of their lives and to offer the resources necessary to do that long-term. It is about social justice to help people who society have deemed permanently lost, so that they can become the citizens that a community points to as active mentors to other struggling people. RecoveryPark is also about demonstrating that like-minded agencies can collaborate on a much larger scale that will have a significant impact on a city beyond the recovering aspects – truly a community without walls.
What is RecoveryPark?
RecoveryPark is a projected 10year, multimillion dollar planned community redevelopment project on the east side of Detroit. The use of the term “recovery” in the name is intentional, as the focus of RecoveryPark is to reenvision the city along multiple components education, agriculture/urban farming, community development, food production, commercial and housing development, to name a few – in order to help residents who are recovering from addiction, those returning to the community from prison, and others through personal and economic empowerment. A Leadership Task Force of over 50 collaborative partners, both nonprofit and forprofit as well as government entities has been formed and is committed to making this project a success.
The idea of land use repurposing offers tremendous possibility for longterm economic support. Repurposing the land holds promise for bringing empty properties back on to the city’s tax rolls. The use of green initiatives and ‘out of the box’ thinking will help improve the quality of life for residents, plus develop a unique, redesigned concept of urban life in Detroit that will be attractive to others both within and outside the city. Further, the project will be selfsustaining, paying for itself as it grows.
The real story of RecoveryPark, however, doesn’t start with RecoveryPark. It actually starts just over 40 years ago with the founding of SelfHelp Addiction Rehabilitation (SHAR), a Detroitbased substance abuse treatment program that was established in 1969. SHAR’s mission is to transform individuals with addiction and co-occurring disorders into people who are recovering, people who are capable of living full and productive lives. Their treatment approach and philosophy is based on the principles of the Therapeutic Community model.
Those able to sustain recovery are hampered by unemployment in Detroit, which currently exceeds 30%. New job creation is at a standstill. This, combined with segregation, suburbanization, and disinvestment, plus the ravages of a drug culture and the high incidence of crime in Detroit, have dramatically shrunk Detroit’s population in the last 60 years. As a result, the city has been left with approximately 40 square miles of unproductive, vacant land and an estimated 33,529 abandoned single and multiplefamily houses that have become havens for crime and drugs.
In addition, Detroit is home to many individuals who are returning to the community from prison. Over 20% of the 15,000 individuals released from Michigan prisons each year return to the city. Despite reentry efforts, “most of them are not getting sufficient help finding jobs, housing and support services or even securing a state ID. Most Michigan inmates read at no higher than an eighthgrade level. They leave prison with criminal records and diminished employment skills. In too many cases, they are set up to fail; nearly half return to prison.”
The problem is that the community in which most persons return after treatment is filled with challenges that pull them back into addiction. The lack of jobs, even minimumwage jobs, the lack of affordable housing in safe neighborhoods, crime, lack of public transportation, and other obstacles create an atmosphere in which addiction seems to be the easier path. Those who try to sustain recovery are often illequipped for employment. Most are in their 40’s or older and have a criminal record. Few read beyond an 8th grade level.
What exactly would it look like? No one knew. The initial idea was a large, 500 acre farm that would put SHAR clients to work. But that was just one of several ideas. Wherever or whatever it would be, SHAR believed that it must:
- Take a holistic approach, altering both the landscape and the lives of clients as well as that of the residents of Detroit.
- Be a model that is developed “from the ground up,” not imposed onto the neighborhood from government or other authorities.
- Be assetbased, building upon the history, expertise, knowledge, experience, and assets already contained within the City of Detroit.
- Be socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable – what those involved in RecoveryPark refer to as the “triple bottom line.”
SHAR believed that the time was right for this approach. It was time to seek bold new concepts to strengthen Detroit and rebuild its neighborhoods, one person and one brick at a time. It was time to challenge the despair and gloom that is so evident to anyone who walks or drives through parts of the city. It was time to provide the services that SHAR clients and the City of Detroit need to start the rebirth of their lives and the city as a whole.
In 2009, PBS ran a show titled Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City. It examined how Detroit, a symbol of America’s diminishing status in the world, may come to represent the future of transportation and progress in America. One Detroiter interviewed offered a comment that captures the spirit of SHAR’s intention:
“We need a counter vision to what is in front of our eyes. If we are going to have a future, we need to be able to imagine what it could become.”
How exactly to imagine this future, and to make it happen, was to become the road to RecoveryPark.