In Highland Park, a community-led effort to create a healthy, sustainable, and safe neighborhood for its residents continues to grow. We recently visited Avalon Village on a day that founder Shamayim “Mama Shu” Harris had been looking forward to for a long time.
In the village, they’d planned to open a vegetarian cafe with a greenhouse at the corner of Avalon and Second Avenue. An old gas station stood in the way of this next phase. Beth Vens of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality happened to be listening to a story about Avalon Village on NPR, and realized that they had funds to remove contaminants like that. Fast forward about a year to Thursday afternoon, and the tanks were coming out of the ground.
Vens tells us the process involved conducting a geophysics study, kind of an underground radar, to find the tanks. They did 12 soil borings to test the land. A vacant house stood near the gas station, and they found contamination in that basement; the house also had to come down. Now that the tanks are out, work can start on cleaning up the site, and preparing it for a cafe plus a greenhouse that will grow the food for the cafe.
BIG things happening at the corner of Avalon and Second! Thank you to the MDEQ for coordinating and covering the costs of this demolition at the future site of our Blue Moon Cafe and greenhouse. #avalonvillage #blighttobeauty #progress pic.twitter.com/5Ytk7uXx5f— The Avalon Village (@AvalonVillageHP) July 9, 2018
After the tanks came out, we sat down with Mama Shu to talk about how the village has progressed in the past two years. Although they faced some bumps in the beginning of the project, Mama Shu says that altogether, Avalon Village has been “Organically unfolding in a favorable way.”
When we visited, kids were attending a free summer music camp at the Jakobi Ra Park. Shipping containers for the Goddess Marketplace sat nearby, which is regularly open for women to sell their goods. Across the street, a prefab house donated by the Ellen Show serves as a meeting place and Village Hall for the community.
One of the big projects should be finishing up soon. The Homework House, where kids can get healthy meals and help with work after school, is getting a big boost from volunteers. A group called the Detroit Habituals is donating construction time on the Homework House, which will be completed in the next couple months. Drywall is up and plumbing is about to be installed in the house. An open house is planned for September 23.
The next phase at the corner of Avalon and Second is the Wellness Phase of the project. We can expect to see shipping containers and the greenhouse, with a marketplace and cafe. One house on that end will be known as the Healing House for holistic healing. Once funding comes through, they’ll add activity courts next to the Homework House for sports.
In a region full of big developers, this village is coming together to build a better future for their own.