Community Engagement Why Should We Care?

Dean Savage Park —a park with the potential, yet absent of the attention.

Situated snugly in the center of Corktown, Dean Savage Park seems to be the ideal location for a park brimming with activity. Yet the space sits largely-ignored and slightly frazzled. A few weeks ago, the Corktown Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) and Batch Brewing Company teamed up to host a Biergarten to bring some life, attention and community discussion to the park. The Biergarten’s purpose wasn’t just to sell beer, but to create a space where the community could lounge, laugh, and of course, drink. 

And I’d say it was a success. 

I’m a student intern working with CEDC over the summer. Connected through Duke Engage (a program at Duke University which promotes volunteerism, service, and community engagement), I’m a part of a cohort of eight students assigned to various nonprofits throughout Detroit. My site partner, Joe Squillace, and I really enjoy working with CEDC since it really gives us a chance to not only learn about a new field and area (I’ll never see streets and cities the same way again) but also exercise our skills.

As a part of the program, I’m only in Detroit for eight weeks —not enough time to really see the revitalization of Corktown come to fruition (a major goal of CEDC). But helping out at an event like the Biergarten showed me not only the short term benefits of community engagement, but also the sheer importance of it as well.

But, what exactly is community engagement?

Perform a quick Google search and phrases like “participation,”“communication,” and “building relationships” pepper the page. Since the term is so broad, it’s a little difficult to precisely define. Community engagement encompasses everything from activities designed to increase community participation, to consulting the community while planning events, to empowering the community by facilitating discussion (did I say community enough times?).

Basically, community engagement is engaging with the community (is your mind blown yet?). 

Community engagement is as flour is to a cake —an essential ingredient. If a nonprofit like CEDC wants to succeed in its goals, it needs to increase its engagement efforts. The Biergarten is a prime example of an event designed to garner public attention, gather community feedback, and promote a vibrant feel. 

And it was a success on many different fronts.

First, the event raised money for the Patronicity Campaign —a campaign“aimed at creating a fun, safe, and inclusive space for all residents and visitors to Corktown.”In doing so, the Biergarten also publicized the campaign, thus garnering more public attention. Later, this can translate to a broader base of support.

The Biergarten also successfully gathered resident feedback on what they would like to see the park used for. When I interviewed a local, she noted how little pop-ups like this one are “good methods for revitalization” and “eye-opener(s) for the city.” Another local noted that although the location was prime, the park would be more attractive to relax in if it was aesthetically more pleasing; small things like adding colorful flowers and making sure the grass wasn’t dead would go a long way, according to him. These little snippets of feedback are helpful. They give CEDC more direction on how to accomplish its goals.

And so in the end, it’s apparent why community engagement is such a big deal not only for nonprofits like CEDC, but organizations in general. It makes reaching goals easier and more efficient —basically a catalyst to success. 

But for community engagement to work, it has to be implemented in different ways over the long-term. Sadly, I’m a summer intern here for a measly two months. I won’t be here to see long-term benefits. But seeing just how much the Biergarten has accomplished in a short time frame, I know that with sustained effort, community engagement can and will transform Corktown.

Ashka Stephen is a rising sophomore at Duke University majoring in Economics and Computer Science. She’s interested in learning more about startup culture, entrepreneurship and innovation. Over the summer, she is interning at the Corktown Economic Development Corporation and is primarily working on a team creating a Place Plan for the Corktown Area.