The cornerstone of Forward Cities mission is cross-city collaboration, so it is exciting when unique and unexpected methods for doing so occur. While formal collaboration opportunities usually involve sharing best practices, methodology and research, informal collaboration can be just as informative and powerful. This is exactly what happened recently when fellow Forward Cities supporters came together one recent weekend.
While visiting New Orleans on a personal vacation, Brittany Foley of Michigan Community Resources was able to connect with Forward Cities Council Members Allen Square of Square Button and Haley Burns of Fund 17 for lunch and a tour of New Orleans' 7th and 8th wards.
Most visitors to New Orleans are not lucky enough to break away from the French Quarter-centric tourist zone, but Foley works in Detroit on a project with Forward Cities funder New Economy Initiative (NEI) and was interested in learning more about the neighborhoods of New Orleans. Don Jones of NEI connected Foley with Square and Burns for an instructive tour.
"Having never been to New Orleans before, the opportunity to learn first-hand about the issues and opportunities facing the neighborhoods was an amazing experience," said Foley.
The tour started on historic Bayou Road, a center of black-owned businesses and then continued up by car throughout the parts of the 7th and 8th wards. A stop at the infamous Buttermilk Drop Bakery for some sweet treats preceded a visit to a neighborhood church where Allen's mother is the preacher. They heard stories of the church's re-development post-Katrina and the way congregations around the city came together at that time.
“When I was connected with Brittany, who was interested in seeing our study area, I was excited to show a newcomer such a culturally rich and interesting part of our city. Even better, we were guided by Allen Square who knows the area well, as showcased by his greeting everyone we passed on the street,” said Burns.
Throughout the tour, Foley, Square and Burns compared lessons and thoughts on blight, crime and neighborhood revitalization from Detroit to New Orleans. In addition, Square and Burns had the opportunity to share this neighborhood with a like-minded visitor as well as see it from a fresh perspective.
"Allen and Haley were more than gracious with their time and in sharing personal accounts of what the corridor is truly experiencing. There were some very interesting parallels–as well as clear distinctions–between the issues facing New Orleans and those facing Detroit. I'm glad to have had this experience and am confident that I will be drawing on some of these parallels in my work back in Detroit," said Foley.
Experiences like these demonstrate Forward Cities efforts to strengthen relationships and resource-sharing across participating cities that are building their innovation ecosystems.
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