My name is Jackson Koeppel. This is my first blog post about my work through Grand Aspirations for solar energy in Highland Park this year. For those who don’t know, Highland Park (known locally as HP) is its own city, entirely surrounded by Detroit. It was the center of the Ford manufacturing economy, and was built to house affluent autoworkers who were once upon a time paid a fair wage. The place I live now, two rows of red apartments with a courtyard between them, used to be hospitality suites where Henry Ford housed distinguished guests to his Model-T factory, located three blocks away. Most of them no longer have electricity or running water. Keith and Diane Hoye, the current owners, housed the Green Economy Leadership Trainees last summer.
I originally moved to Highland Park as part of the GELT program (Detroit Summer of Solutions). I got back a week ago, and have jumped into the early stages of several projects. I’m be teaching a photovoltaic solar education course at the Detroit Edison Public School Academy 5 days a week. I’m working on a syllabus for that course right now. I’ve been roofing with AJ O’Neill, who owns a coffee-roasting business in HP. I’m working with him on a campaign to get 200 solar street lights installed here, under community ownership, over several years. Just the other day, we drove out to Holland, MI to meet Craig, the owner of Solar Streetlights USA. He and AJ got off on a good note, both having done a fair amount of exerting work in their lives. We’ve got quotes and technical details, and will be installing our first lights come Thanksgiving. In the next couple weeks, I’ll be having a community meeting to discuss the campaign, the free solar site assessments I intend to be offering, and a long-term vision for this neighborhood. Next week is full of meetings – with folks from Detroit Edison Public Academy, a local preacher, and the HP building inspector.
I met with Jim Casha the other day. He’s an architect, and has plans for comfortable, affordable single occupancy homes that make use of Detroit’s most abundant resource, old concrete. They’re highly efficient, and he wants them to run on solar energy and be surrounded by gardens. I’m trying to organize some sort of work party, getting folks from my college to come out here and build models of these homes on vacant lots.
I was here this past summer getting PV-educated, farming, and ripping up concrete. Getting back’s been nice. The garden we planted over the summer is fruiting, so I get to eat fresh tomatoes three meals a day. The church basement we cleaned up makes a great office space. I think I came here with a lot of serious reasons; I want to build autonomous communities that can survive climate change, I want to see people get out from under the thumb of oversized corporations, I want to see collaborative economics. And those things still inspire me, but not as much as waving to the same people every morning, sit outside with coffee, doing emails, plan meetings, geeking out over solar energy, plotting the imminent installation at Food Field, the urban farm we designed a PV system for this summer. I get happy when I see other people get happy, I get excited when I talk to people who live here that don’t want to get out, that see a promising future rather than a bleak one. I care about Highland Park because I live here, simple as that. In my experience, Peoples’ priorities end up having more to do with their daily lives than their abstract beliefs. Abstraction pales in comparison to things you can touch.
And on that pseudo-philosophical note, I’ll sign off. More updates to come!