SUMANI TRENDSTER BLOG: Eastside Community Network

Working with Eastside Community Network and Donna Givens gave us the opportunity to learn about, propose solutions and strategize a roadmap for the issues facing the Eastside of the City of Detroit.With an overview that spanned a number of different topics ranging from abandonment and vacancy to predatory lending and detrimental policies, our deliverables were also equally expansive in their range.

 The team, after a couple of meetings, decided to start grouping these seemingly disparate topics into sectors that can be tackled using similar solutions. This led to the formation of the 5 focus areas we worked on during the course of the project.

The first focus area is Policy, to which all the other focus areas could be traced back to as a potential systemic obstacle to development. The second and fourth focus areas are Green Infrastructure and Labor Pool, which are intertwined and reliant on each other. The fourth focus area is Solar Energy, the fifth one being Urban Blight and Predatory Lending.

Despite the need for such division and grouping, we were constantly aware of the interconnectedness of all our focus areas. For example, the creation of jobs in the Green Infrastructure sector was tied together with the need for new Green Infrastructure projects in the city, which in turn was tied to the need for incentivizing the development of these GI projects, which is presently being hindered by the current Green Credit system. 

On further meetings with the client, we learned that their top priorities were in fact, Policy changes, Incentivization of Green Infrastructure, Retention and development of talent in the GI sector and the implementation of Clean Solar energy for the benefit of the community.

We were also briefed on the current conditions in each of these focus areas, which gave us the necessary context upon which we have based our solutions.

During our conversations with ECN, we realized that the organization is already well versed in the different types of solutions available. What they lacked was a clear pathway to reach these goals and solutions. That is when our focus was shifted towards creating and strategizing a clear roadmap that included resources and case studies ECN can refer to and even collaborate with. Though shifting the nature of the deliverable in the middle of the project was a challenge, we managed to turn the research and work we did during the first half into a resource both for our next steps in creating a roadmap, and for ECN to look back to whenever they want.

Another challenge we faced was communication and the delays it sustained. Though we were able to complete the report and produce a useful deliverable, it would have been less stressful towards the end if we were able to define our project’s priorities early in the communication stream. Due to the delay, we had to resort to choosing the priorities of the clients ourselves, but in the end it was straightened out when we had a long meeting where even their priorities under each focus area were explained. This made developing a roadmap fairly straightforward from that point on.

Our main takeaways are: 

  • SUMANI projects are excellent experiences that provide a sneak peek into what the practical aspects of sustainability consulting/analysis/reporting will be. 
  • Early communication, especially regarding the scope, priorities, and deliverables of the project is absolutely essential for a smooth and satisfactory completion of a project

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