Good News, Bad News, and Lessons Learned

Greetings fellow Solutionaries and loyal readers,

Bad news first. The house we worked on throughout January, which we were planning to convert into a residence and community resource for sustainable home upgrades, is slated for demolition. There is much commotion with the city right now, other folks are trying to take ownership of the project and move it forward. It isn’t in the ground yet, but its future is definitively uncertain.

All’s going well with Soulardarity. We’re in the midst of a planning stage. After the first light went in, we’ve been revisiting our long-term planning and business model. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time driving around Highland Park, meeting neighbors, and planning community meetings to facilitate active involvement in the planning and implementation of this project. We’ll be developing our master plan, partnerships with the city and neighborhood association, and a design for the streetlights we hope to build right in Highland Park. I don’t want to give away too much detail right now, but the plan right now is to launch a Capital Campaign in the next few months with the goal of raising $1.5 million to install 200 solar streetlights all in one fell swoop.

I’ve also been working with Detroit SOUP to get the Highland Park neighborhood SOUP underway. Detroit SOUP is a crowd-funding event that’s been running for three years. Every month, they hold a community dinner. It costs $5 at the door, which gets you soup, salad, bread, and a vote. Four people propose creative projects that benefit the Detroit community, give short presentations and take questions. Afterwards, everyone eats and talks and votes and, by 8:30, someone walks away with the door money (currently between $1000 and $1500). With support from one of their grants, we’ve held two Highlanf Park SOUP’s at St. Benedict Hall, and are excited for the first SOUP to occur at Nandi’s Knowledge Café, which is a little easier to find.

I’ve been struggling for something to write about for a week now, and it finally dawned on me that after eight months, I might have some valuable advice for people inclined towards similar projects. And there’s really only one thing that comes up as a clear lesson: Do Not Be Afraid of Uncertainty.

Almost every decision I’ve made this year has come with risk. I stayed in Highland Park in the Fall because I thought I’d be teaching a class at a charter school. It fell through, along with the matching funds for my grant, leaving me with potentially zero income. Soulardarity arose from a decision to go roofing. The Oberlin project was organized around projects that did not have guarantees of success. Indeed, the John R. House is under threat of demolition. The Hall space is still moving forward though. And through the work we did, we made connections to people we’d never met, and introduced a large group of people to the nature of green economics in financially dire straits. A few of them want to come back.

Your actions will have unforeseeable consequences, no matter how thoroughly you think them through. So when you walk into a place with goals, with a plan, with an idea of how things should go, always be prepared to forget it. To be clear – you absolutely should set goals, make plans, and imagine different scenarios that could unfold as a result of your actions. But always be ready for the unforeseen. Up till January, I was all set to start an internship at a solar product design company and develop my skill set in that region. Since being re-exposed to the hierarchy of needs, I’ve dropped it and turned towards farming and building, both of which allow me to be more actively involved in neighborhoods and communities.

SOUP is a terrific example of the unforeseen. When you get a group of active, engaged, concerned people in a room together, solutions to problems arise in ways you could not have possibly planned for. You might be looking for a place to test plants for soil rehabilitation, and the guy on the next block who you’ve never met has a huge yard that he thinks is ugly and barren. You might not win the door money from that night, but you might meet someone with deep pockets and tremendous faith in your project. You might find out that the house rehab project you’re working on is threatened by incoming legislation and new code requirements. You might find out that there’s money available through a source you’d never heard of. HP SOUP is a focus for me because I’ve experienced the inevitability of the unforeseen, and I’ve taken to cultivating it.

I’m currently on a gap year from Oberlin. It was arguably incredibly short-sighted to invest my time in developing a years-long project when I have to go back to school in the Fall. But having done so, I’m now in a position to talk to administrators about the future of my education. I’ve just submitted a proposal for part-time credit, involving private studies around my work here. So, without a plan, these two universes have the potential to fuse. When you try to do everything with certainty, you’re often not open to new developments that change your desired course, but if accepted can take you closer to your goals and even cause you to find better ones.

Just some thoughts. Take them or leave them. Peace.

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