Soulardarity Taking it to the Next Level in Detroit

All good things must come to an end, and the Community Organizing grant from Grand Aspirations is no exception. But to quote another piece of folk wisdom, as one thing ends another begins, and that Soulardarity is very nearly prepared to launch into a fundraising campaign for a community-owned city-wide infrastructure project (and, hopefully, pay salaries) is evidence of this statement’s truth.

Brandon Knight, discussing a potential solar investment opportunity with these chickens

Brandon Knight, discussing a potential solar investment opportunity with these chickens

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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. Continue reading


ImageDown in the basement of the St. Benedict’s Auditorium, a change has taken place. Two new cubicles went up, a huge amount of drop ceiling has been removed and the ceiling repaired with screws, drywall, mesh, and joint compound. The lights are suspended from chains, the twisted old wire has been scrapped. The kitchen has been cleaned and organized. Recycling has been taken away. A tremendous amount of chairs, heaters, and furniture belonging to Northpointe Academy have been organized away into closets, and the makings of a computer lab are growing in their place. Continue reading

The Diner


In a booth at Red Hot’s, I think about the mechanics of a non-profit solar provider and eat what’s becoming my regular breakfast: eggs, bacon, home fries, coffee, and wheat toast. Jut once, I tried to order breakfast past 11am and have never lived it down. Red Hot’s is a family-owned restaurant; Carol takes your order, Rich works the grill, and while you eat they bicker, gossip, discuss their city, and catch up with their customers. This is why my breach of conduct, my post 10:59 breakfast order, will live in a small circle of infamy for the foreseeable future. The world of Highland Park is full of uncertainty, scarcity, and emergency financial managers, but Red Hot’s is somehow separate – a stable port in a storm.

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Lighting up Highland Park!


The news is breaking: Highland Park has a solar-powered streetlight.

On Thanksgiving, we gathered together at dusk. The sunset was particularly beautiful that evening. The glow lasted in a sky with few clouds. As darkness fell, we filled the empty street, forming a ring around the light. It was like watching water to boil – we knew it would happen, we didn’t know when. It got quiet. Moments became hours. All the work, the stress, logistics, arguments, fundraising, became compressed. We’d scrambled for funding and footing, scheduled and rescheduled, and hashed and rehashed. And just when it seemed like we’d have to postpone, the money came, the logistics became logical, and on Tuesday, Craig from SolarStreetlightsUSA drove out here to put it in the ground. AJ was up in the cherry-picker with him, wiring the wires and connecting the connectors. The press, the city, and the people were all present. By Thursday, the news had already broken, and this ceremony was effectively unimportant. But it was Thanksgiving. This was what we’d waited for. It was a small crowd – Andre, AJ, Lawrence (dressed as St. Nick), my family, a few people from the neighborhood. In the shadows of the original Model-T factory, we waited to see our work come to fruition. Continue reading

Building Solar Energy in Highland Park

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. Continue reading