Cafe Con Leche in Southwest Detroit

Cafe con Leche in Southwest Detroit

There are many incentives programs targeting entrepreneurs, such as funding opportunities like Hatch and Revolve, but few grant dollars are going towards existing businesses. With the goal to increase business sales, create new jobs, and enhance economic stability in urban neighborhoods, the New Economy Initiative recently tacked this very issue.

NeIdeasIn partnership with the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, they awarded 30 small businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park $10,000 grants to grow their business.

The NEIdeas Challenge received more than 600 applications and of the 30 winners, 73% were minority-owned businesses, 60% were women-owned, and four businesses have been in operation for more than 50 years.

Opportunities like this can have a large effect on a community because small businesses are central to economic recovery. Small businesses typically employ local residents and create a unique sense of place within the community. According to the American Independent Business Alliance, every $1 spent at an independent business generates $.68 back into the local economy. Supporting local businesses, even with just $10,000, can have an extremely positive effect to a small area.

Café con Leche was one of the NEIdea contest winners and happens to be my favorite Detroit coffee shop. Since they opened in 2007, the coffee shop has been a staple of the community – yes, they have great coffee, the staff is friendly, and the environment is pleasant. But most importantly, Café con Leche is a place where people come to gather.

Dia de los Muertos altar at Cafe con Leche

Dia de los Muertos altar at Cafe con Leche

When someone comes in the door, two, three, or four patrons greet the newcomer. People hug, give each other kisses on the cheek, go in for a handshake – it’s a place for residents to see other residents. Elected officials frequent the café to get a great cup of coffee, support local business, and have informal conversations with constituents. Nonprofit and church employees come to work, network, and run into old friends. Teens fill the shop after school to warm up while they’re waiting for the bus or to buy a bag of chips before walking home. This is the type of business neighborhoods need to promote a strong sense of place.

With the $10,000 grant from NEI, Café con Leche will buy equipment and train staff to bring the roasting process in-house. It means a lot of work for the owner, Jordi Carbonell, but hopefully it also means more business.

Supporting great places like Café con Leche and other NEIdea winners can truly enhance a neighborhood and act as a catalyst for small-scale but important community growth.

crowdArtPrize attracted more than 400,000 people this year to enjoy 1,536 pieces of art scattered throughout Grand Rapids. The 19-day event is coming to a close this week as the public and art experts determine winners of a $260,000 and $300,000 prize.

big artThe public vote just narrowed down their favorite top twenty pieces and visitors have a chance to cast their final votes until midnight on October 9. A juried panel of art experts will also determine a separate winner, and both will be announced at the ArtPrize Awards on October 10.

ArtPrize does more than recognize artists; it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, boosts economic activity an estimated $22 million, and gives Grand Rapids residents something to be proud of. This is large-scale placemaking that has a dramatic impact.

Although other communities would struggle to host a similar event, elements of ArtPrize can and should be replicated across the state:


Celebrate art and local culture

Let art and cultural presentations take over public and private spaces. Allowing visitors to freely travel through interesting, attractive, and engaging pieces of art, as they do during ArtPrize, gives people an excuse to visit downtown. They’ll fill the streets, get something to eat, and enjoy the local environment.

Engage the publicstreet

ArtPrize gives visitors a chance to vote for their favorite pieces, which eventually awards one winner a $260,000 prize. Anything that empowers residents to make decisions, participate, share ideas, or contribute in some way, will be a more powerful and memorable experience.

Host an event that’s welcoming to all

Ensuring an event is accessible to all kinds of people is an important consideration. Make sure activities are accessible to people with disabilities, the young and old, and are welcoming to people of all backgrounds and cultures. Consider geography, venue, theme, cost, food choices, and language options to ensure the event is welcoming to everyone who may attend. The more people in attendance, the stronger the impact on the community.

Use effective messaging and technology tools

ArtPrize has a strong social and traditional media presence to promote the event and recognize participating artists. Visitors also have the ability to download an app to their smart phone to vote for their favorite pieces, learn about Grand Rapids, and get updates on the competition. In 2014, it’s crucial for communities to share information, promote events, and allow for visitor engagement through technology.

clocksGo with the flow

Grand Rapids has been full of activity since ArtPrize started. Instead of being strict about what people could and couldn’t do, the city seemed to go with the flow. Children played in city fountains; street performers entertained passerbys; artists not formally part of ArtPrize shared their work in public spaces. Yes, police helped patrol busy intersections, but the city didn’t feel over-controlled. People were free to do what was fun, comfortable, and safe.

Art will be on display in Grand Rapids through October 12. I encourage you to explore the event and brainstorm how you could incorporate elements of ArtPrize through events in your own community. Even if you miss ArtPrize this year, Grand Rapids has a lot to offer and the city would be happy to host your visit any time of year!



UIX Discussion: A philanthropic perspective on designing cities

UIX Discussion: A philanthropic perspective on designing cities

As the city government continues to get itself sorted out (Detroit passed a resolution last week to return powers to elected officials but keep the emergency manager in control of the city’s bankruptcy process), residents and visitors keep doing what they’ve been doing: being innovative, creative, and promoting community.

Last week, the Urban Innovation Exchange (UIX) hosted an event in Detroit as a way to advance the city’s innovation movement. They hosted a series of talks, presentations, and tours to highlight ways residents in cities around the country are improving their communities one small project at a time.

Small has a big impact

At Wednesday’s forum, The Art of Place, attendees heard from 11 creative leaders who are spearheading unique placemaking projects. Organizers from Detroit SOUP, The Alley Project, and others represented some of the city’s innovative projects, but the audience also got to hear about interesting projects across the country. To highlight a few:


UIX Presentation: The art of placemaking

UIX Presentation: The art of placemaking

CoSIGN Cincy is a way to change the perception of a neighborhood by allowing artists to create new signs for local businesses in Cincinnati. Organizers hosted a competition that paid for the development of the top-10 signs.

The project’s ability to connect unlikely people – artists, business owners, engineers, city zoning officials, and the greater community – makes it a great placemaking project that has a clear impact on the area’s local economy. Not only do new, unique signs improve the streetscape’s aesthetics, some owners said foot traffic nearly doubled after the sign was installed.

Eve Picker is active in the fields of design, architecture, and community and real estate development. She founded CityLAB in Pittsburgh (a self-described as “a do tank, not a think tank”) and, a new real estate crowdfunding platform to raise equity for transformational real estate projects. In her UIX presentation, she walked us through the costs and returns of small, community-led projects (such as a street market) vs. those of large, top-down projects (such as an athletics stadium). Eve urged the audience to help change the way our elected officials think about change, and do what we can to support the more creative, innovative, and small community-led initiatives.

Food, education, and entrepreneurship

Dlectricity: Artists projecting images on a garage near the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Dlectricity: Artists projecting images on a garage near the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

At UIX’s Thursday forum, The Future of Food, a variety of food entrepreneurs and food access advocates shared their successes and lessons to an engaged audience.

Sustainability was the main focus of the speakers from the CDC Farm & Fishery (Detroit), Rid-All Green Partnership (Cleveland), and Tiny Diner (Minneapolis): the two former being urban farming and aquaponics operations and the latter being a neighborhood food system in the form of a restaurant.

Education was a large part of most of the featured programs, bringing together equity and health. The Food Trust (Philadelphia), Food Revolution Cooking Club (Pittsburgh), and Detroit Food Academy (Detroit) are active with youth and often work in schools to educate students about nutrition and cooking. FoodLab Detroit and (revolver) (Hamtramck) offer new venues to showcase food entrepreneurs and engage the community.

There was clear consensus and optimism among the speakers to move away from an industrialized, one-size-fits-all food system for local, customized networks that consider social and environmental costs.

Making place with art

Dlectricity: Light stage on Warren and Woodward

Dlectricity: Light stage on Warren and Woodward

Detroit also hosted annual creative events last week, the Detroit Design Festival and Dlectricity. With more than 50 art displays or discussions throughout the week, the city’s Midtown and Downtown was full of activity, art, and people. Arts and culture are essential components of a thriving, knowledge-based economy. A healthy creative sector attracts and retains residents and businesses, and produces economic benefits.

Detroit seemed to be the champion of placemaking last week: the city prioritized people, place, conversation, and creativity. All components of a healthier, more vibrant city.