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The Uniting Detroiters project is a community-based participatory research project of which I'm a part. It started in 2011 with the aim of bringing together residents, activists, scholars, students, progressive social justice organizations, and neighborhood groups from across the city to study and discuss the emerging development agenda in Detroit, how it fits into broader national and global trends, and identify local challenges to and opportunities for transformative social change. The project aims to use research activities to strengthen the infrastructure of the city’s long-vibrant grassroots sectors and reassert residents’ roles as active citizens in the development process. We are currently completing a documentary and atlas project, described below.


Two Detroits: A People's Movie

"Two Detroits: A People’s Movie" is a work-in-progress documentary and community resource that features the voices of residents, activists, and organization staff involved in progressive social justice work in Detroit. The documentary highlights Detroiters' lived experience of urban change, perspectives on the contemporary political moment and governance in Detroit, and visions for the future of the city. It is based on 47 videotaped interviews conducted over the last two years as part of a community-based participatory research project called Uniting Detroiters. The aim of the documentary is to provoke discussion in community gatherings about strategies and tactics to build grassroots power, deepen democracy, and foster good governance. With this in mind, residents and community organizers were involved in the production of the documentary from conceptualizing questions to conducting videotaped interviews, shooting B-Roll, storyboarding, and editing.  Our approach was inspired by the Community Voice methodology ( Rather than relying on an external narrator or imposing a rigid framework, the documentary emerges entirely from the voice of Detroiters. While primarily intended as a tool for local organizing, we are showing and distributing the documentary beyond Detroit with the aim of sharing movement-building strategies and forging connections with like-minded groups struggling against neoliberal economic restructuring in other cities and rural areas across the United States and beyond.


Detroit: A People's Atlas

Detroit: A People's Atlas builds upon Detroit’s long-standing tradition of thinking through social justice in spatial terms. It takes a cue from pioneering efforts in radical cartography that were led by Wayne State University Professor William Bunge in the late 1960s, whose pioneering Detroit Geographical Expedition Institute featured collaborative mapping projects conducted by students and residents.  The goal of the Atlas is to offer critical analysis of the processes of racialized dispossession affecting the city (varying from individual home foreclosures to  the emergency manager and bankruptcy) while at the same time taking stock of the often-unacknowledged social justice work that has long been central to Detroit’s history. The Atlas therefore maps social, political, and racial inequalities while also drawing on the creative energy of residents to chart different visions of urban democracy, governance, and revitalization than those which prevalent in the local (and global) neoliberal urban policy discourse. The Atlas is based on the idea that creating maps is not merely about knowing where things are in space, but politically locating ourselves in relation to our neighbors and communities, asserting control, and making demands upon leaders. 


The Uniting Detroiters Project has been led by Building Movement-Detroit. Project design and research activities have been co-faciliated by Linda Campbell (Director of Building Movement Detroit), Andrew Newman (Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wayne State University), and Sara Safransky (PhD candidate in the Geography Department at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). 

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