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ivoh | January 17, 2018

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A building block in restorative narrative: Turning point as bridge'

As a former Detroiter with ongoing ties and affection for the city, I found myself swinging between despair and hope as I read Monica Davey’s New York Times piece about the various schemes plotting its resurrection.

The story reminded me of several I reported as city-county bureau chief for the Free Press nearly 40 years ago. As far as I know, none of the elaborate plans for mass transit or neighborhood development that I wrote about ever finished the journey from idea to reality.

That’s one reason I was struck by the last couple of graphs of Davey’s story. After describing what she terms “the reawakening along Woodward Avenue,” she points out that the newly bustling piece of downtown

feels like another universe from the hollowed-out neighborhoods only a few miles away. “That’s all great,” said John J. George, whose Motor City Blight Busters community organization has been around for a quarter-century working to clean up neighborhoods and who said he had gotten support from Mr. Gilbert. “But what about the neighborhoods? When is it coming to the neighborhoods?”

“We’re just looking for a way to bridge the difference between complete madness and some normalcy,” Mr. George said of his group’s efforts to clear several blocks in one Northwest Detroit neighborhood. They have planted tomatoes, cucumbers and corn here, but a new beginning, citywide, still feels far off.

John George highlights a key element in the idea of restorative narrative that ivoh has been exploring in recent months: Something that happens in the life of an individual, a city or — in George’s experience, a neighborhood — that sparks the process of restoration.

Shortly after I read the Times piece about Detroit, Twitter pointed me to a more specific account of George’s restorative moment — the action he and his neighbors took to board up a crack house and drive out a nightly source of fear and violence.

Although Nicole Wallace’s profile of Motor City Blight Busters appeared originally in the Journal of Philanthropy, I wasn’t surprised to find it re-published in the Christian Science Monitor. ivoh Board Chair Roberta Baskin tipped me off recently to the paper’s commitment to encouraging its readers to “read, share and do” something with its journalism.

All of which got me thinking about the process of restorative narrative on multiple fronts — individuals faced with staggering obstacles, cities afflicted with overwhelming problems, news organizations groping for a strategy users will embrace.

I’m beginning to think that, in most cases, we’re less likely to find the path to restoration in grand plans than we are in more immediate, concrete action. And in Detroit these days, there appears to be no better action to take than the one John George describes as building “the bridge between complete madness and some normalcy.”