Detroit residents are proud of their city. They’re proud of its history, Motown and the Detroit Tigers. And even in the face of adversity, Detroit pride is resilient and focused on the future.

Detroit Community ReLeaf: Osborn Outdoor Education Center — before photo

A before photo of the nearly one-acre vacant lot in East Detroit that transformed into the city’s first outdoor education center, equipped with a walking path, gathering space and butterfly habitat.

For many, the Great Recession of 2008 was the final straw upon the back of a long, painful decline for the city. People fled their homes in near record numbers amidst the mortgage crisis; once-healthy communities turned into large pockets of blight. As mile after mile of Detroit became more boarded up, the people who lived there banded together and began making the hard decisions from which the city could rebuild.

With housing values and neighborhood services stabilizing, as well as the population set to potentially grow for the first time since the 1950s, Detroit is in a unique position to emerge as a model of a truly green city.

When American Forests first approached local greening leaders, we decided to focus the value of our urban forest efforts in a city with very tight budgets. We conducted an analysis of the nearly 1,200 acre, heavily-forested Rouge Park and restored tree canopy there.

From that foundation, we expanded into addressing the opportunity for reforestation on vacant and underutilized land. Our analysis identified where need and opportunity were the highest. Vacant homes were removed and we helped local partners conceive, fund and design an outdoor education center, the first in the city, in the Osborn neighborhood of East Detroit. In a four-day span, our staff and Bank of America volunteers helped transform a collection of neglected vacant lots into a vibrant park that local schools, a community center and neighbors will use.

Students from nearby schools, neighbors living adjacent to the site and leaders from the Osborn community also came together for the sole purpose of making their community reflect what they’ve been feeling this whole time.

With tears of happiness from local residents, the ribbon was cut on what we hope will be the first of many more reforestation projects that emerge from long-term planning and restoration efforts throughout Detroit.

While the new greenspace will bring with it migrating butterflies, educational opportunities and a community gathering space, it’s most significant impact is one that is difficult to quantify, but easy to see — hope.

American Forests is working to make urban areas like Detroit greener and communities within them healthier.