Ypsilanti District Library Harwood Community Conversations Summary December 2016
Libraries are trusted organizations in their communities and can objectively collect public knowledge from residents to work toward positive change. The Midwest Collaborative for Library Services and the Library of Michigan sponsored training in the Harwood Practice for 50 Michigan librarians in March, 2016, and YDL staff were honored to be among them. Between April and December 2016, YDL staff conducted 12 conversations and heard from 79 people across Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township and Superior Township. Staff also conducted a shorter ASK exercise with several hundred people at a Downtown Farm Market. The Library is committed to gaining a deep understanding of the community we are part of so we can better align the Library’s work with things the community cares about. Here is what we have heard so far.
People said they want a community that:
- Is safe and welcoming with a positive image.
- Is economically thriving for the benefit of all.
- Is inclusive, vibrant, and more integrated.
- Values youth and offers a quality education and a broad range of opportunities.
- Places a focus on environmental stewardship.
Main concerns and actions that can make a difference:
People are concerned about their personal safety and the safety of their community. Lower-income and minority neighborhoods experience more severe criminal activity. Poorer people describe feeling unsafe walking down the street because they have witnessed guns, gangs, drugs and violence, while people in other neighborhoods are impacted more by a perception of area crime, feeling unsafe leaving their homes or parking downtown. People believe the police are not very effective or responsive and are prone to racial profiling. Low-income people, minorities, and youth particularly feel unprotected.
Many feel that clean-up of roadsides and starting or strengthening of watch programs could help improve the safety situation for neighborhoods. People would also like to see an increase in positive interactions with the police, especially with youth. The Sheriff’s Office’s efforts to engage the community are making some inroads, but there is still mistrust of police. Evidence of improvement such as the addition of effective officers and a lower crime rate could improve safety perceptions. A more positive media image and a stronger sense of community could go a long way toward a solution.
Community members are concerned that the area needs more jobs that pay better; adults are working the low-paying jobs that would normally be available to teens. Other economic needs are a stronger tax base, more investment and development in business, infrastructure repair and removal of blight. With the loss of industry, the Ypsilanti area has become a bedroom community whose residents primarily work in Ann Arbor or Detroit. There is a feeling that City government uses poor judgment in regards to fiscal matters. City taxes are high due in part to debt related to Water Street, making it difficult for the city or its residents to get ahead.
Suggestions included finding funding for new businesses, so a focus on supporting new business start-ups could create jobs and retain both people and funds. A diversification of career options outside the service industry would also help. The Library could better market its resources to small businesses, and Washtenaw Community College might also be a strong partner in rebuilding the economy.
Sense of Community
People feel that there are many strong divisions between neighborhoods and many different “silos” in the community, causing judgment and scrutiny. Economically- or racially-based divisions are perpetuating stereotypes. People feel isolated. As people talk more about these concerns they talk about a lack of cooperation or communication between municipalities, between academics and the rest of the community, and even between neighborhoods. People lack pride in their community.
People want more activities that bring diverse groups together and a unified information source about activities in the area. A welcome wagon or packet for new residents, a large, free community event (perhaps the Heritage Festival reinvented), and a mechanism for better communication between groups could bridge divides. Ypsilanti takes great pride in its diversity – this identity should be promoted and practiced as a strength.
People are concerned about the public school system’s quality, its limited resources, and its safety. The outside competition for students from schools of choice and charter schools have diverted funds from the public schools. People also raised concerns about a lack of things for children and teens to do after school; we need free activities that educate youth and engage them in constructive behavior. Teens specifically asked for more free activities to "keep them out of trouble."
People perceive there are few affordable, kid-friendly opportunities in Ypsilanti besides the Library, but this could be partially due to the area’s negative image and lack of a local news outlet. Improvements in safety of parks and cleanliness of rivers could help these natural resources be better utilized by families. Although people want to trust the new Superintendent and YCS teachers, there is lingering anger over the school merger and confidence is still building. More community support and partnerships would help, and youth would also benefit from creation of more job and training opportunities.
A large segment of the community has a strong interest in sustainability, green products, environmental stewardship, and buying local. At the same time there are also concerns about equal access to affordable healthy food, and poorer people seek community clean-up and less drug-related trash.
Solar Ypsi and the city’s many sustainability groups are strong partners for environmental preservation. Ypsi Pride is one example of a clean-up event which could be built upon to include more participants to have a greater impact.
It will be important to take action on things the community cares about. People who have been in the conversations to date have given a few ideas about how to get started. This tells us that as a community we need to begin with small projects that give people a sense of hope and confidence that we can work together on more ambitious changes and aspirations.
If you would like to find out more about this work, or to host a community conversation, please contact Library Director Lisa Hoenig at (734) 879-1300.