Detroit’s reputation and resurgence is gaining steam, yet many of its neighborhoods still struggle. . .

Most of Detroit’s neighborhoods are fragile. Fundamental change is needed to create the organizational systems necessary for all of Detroit’s neighborhoods to stabilize or reinvent themselves. In virtually all of the other great USA cities, community development systems are in place to support neighborhoods regardless of the condition of those neighborhoods.

In Detroit, while some great community development work has been done, there are virtually no systems in place to assure that every neighborhood is served by a competent, resourceful and sustainable community development organization.

With full time facilitation through Detroit Community Developer Maggie DeSantis, three partner institutions launched “Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit” in Spring of 2016. Building the Engine of Community Development seeks to strengthen all of Detroit’s neighborhoods by building the elements necessary to create a strong community development system.


Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit (BECDD) is a citywide collaborative process that will strengthen all of Detroit’s neighborhoods by creating a well-coordinated, effective and equitable framework for community development work in our city.


Why is this process different and IMPaCTFUL?

  1. Nearly 140 local organizations are participating and that number is growing. We are involving virtually every organization with a stake in Detroit neighborhoods. Learn how you can get involved here.
  2. The organizations on the ground are valued as much as the government and foundation leaders and technical experts. We combine the wisdom and experience of local community leaders with national research. We are aimed at building trust and collaboration among all the stakeholders.

  3. We are working for all Detroit neighborhoods. Our work is intended to build a support system for neighborhoods all over the city so that local leaders may have the opportunity to bring community development work into any neighborhood that wants it.

"If each City Council District is served by capable and sustainable community development organizations (CDOs), the neighborhoods in each District, over time, will begin to improve. That will require a community development system."
— Maggie DeSantis, BECDD Initiative Manager
"Detroit is the envy of many other cities working on urban economic revitalization mainly because of its large and diverse philanthropic sector. One of Detroit’s great advantages is its potential for using those foundation resources more effectively to attract and leverage additional public and private investments into the city’s neighborhoods. But that requires more agreement on priorities in order to improve alignment among philanthropic investments."
-Tom Burns, Urban Ventures


CDAD, LTU and MNA serve as "Core Partners" to guide the process and support the day-to-day BECDD staff of two.

In 2017, several Planning Teams oversaw extensive national research and developed recommendations for system design.  In 2018, eight Task Forces are working on finalizing our Detroit strategy based on those recommendations.  An Advisory Council of 37 stakeholder organizations has been working since 2017 to eventually oversee the whole system.

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Five national and local foundations have invested to support the work and more funders are invited. By 2022, BECDD expects to generate:

  • Capable and strong CDOs connected to GROs in every city council district
  • Resources and pathways for new CDOs and GROs to form where neighborhood leaders want them
  • A system to identify which CDOs cover which neighborhoods
  • A unified structure to articulate and advocate the voice of neighborhoods
  • Institutional partnerships to oversee the whole system
  • Permanent revenue streams to sustainably fund the system
  • A robust pipeline of Detroiters prepared for community development careers
  • A data collaborative to provide free, open source data for all neighborhoods
  • A system to measure forward progress in our neighborhoods based on a "Neighborhood Vitality" framework




Phase 1:
Concept and Partner Development


Actual Outcomes:

  • 98 stakeholder groups
  • Working definition of community development and CDO roles
  • Working concept for neighborhood success
  • Working concept for academic/leadership tracks
  • Working concept for a partnership with city government
  • Increased awareness of importance of community development for neighborhoods
  • Funding for Phase Two

Phase 2:
Design and


Expected Outcomes:

  • Large and growing collaborative stakeholder group
  • Collaborative oversight structure
  • System to lift up the voices of residents and neighborhoods
  • Capitalization strategy
  • Strong working partnership with the City of Detroit
  • Pathways into community development careers for Detroiters
  • CDO capacity building system and support for GROs
  • Data system to track neighborhood and community development progress
  • Neighborhood success measures with an evaluation system
  • A system to document and map community development work in every Detroit neighborhood
  • Increased awareness of the importance of community development for neighborhoods

Phase 3:


Expected Outcomes:

  • Capable CDOs connected to GROs in every city council district
  • A unified structure that articulates and advocates the voice of neighborhoods
  • Institutional partnerships to oversee the whole system
  • A permanent revenue stream to sustainably fund the system
  • A robust pipeline of Detroiters prepared for community development careers
  • City government supporting the system and partnering with CDOs in every district
  • A data collaborative providing free, open source data for all neighborhoods
  • A "neighborhood success" measurement system
  • A significant and pervasive recognition of the importance of community development for Detroit's neighborhoods

Learn More About:


Seven Elements of a Community Development System for Detroit


Element 1: System Governance

A structured and functioning public-private governance system with all community development stakeholder/leaders as equal partners; collaboratively shepherding the entire system, designing new initiatives, and advocating for community development as the key to strengthening all Detroit neighborhoods.  

element 2: Capacity Building and Certification

Systematic access to training, technical assistance, coaching and peer learning to support CDOs/other organizations to play the consensus community development roles in every neighborhood:

  • Convening/facilitation
  • Economic development
  • Resident engagement and empowerment
  • Resident support
  • Planning and advocacy

Support to grassroots organizations to facilitate their important role. CDO performance standards and incentives to maintain high performance.

Clarity and support to intermediaries to assure effective capacity building service delivery.

element 3: System Capitalization

A strategy to assure public-private systemic resources for community development work including operating support for CDOs, capacity building for CDOs and grassroots organizations, access to shared organizational services and data and evaluation services; low-cost debt capital and grants for community development projects.

element 4: Neighborhood Voice and Advocacy

A system to build cross-sector relationships and trust within every neighborhood, then leveraging those relationships to create an influential citywide neighborhood voice for Detroit.

element 5: Data and Evaluation

Accessible neighborhood level data and an evaluation system; all geared toward the achievement of consensus neighborhood success measures.

element 6: City Engagement

City government support for community development through the recognition of CDOs for all city council districts, the provision of CDBG resources, a supportive policy environment, and ongoing partnerships with CDOs to help create and fulfill the city’s master plan.  

element 7: Education and Career Pipeline

A number of easily-accessible education and training tracks and “placements,” starting in middle/high school, for aspiring and current practitioners; to generate a robust pipeline of community development leaders, especially those of color from Detroit.


Community development is the work of building and sustaining neighborhoods. Community development brings opportunity and services to bear on behalf of residents and businesses in a defined neighborhood.  It is facilitated through community development organizations partnering with grass roots organizations and other neighborhood stakeholders.  Community development embraces sustained resident empowerment and equity: social, economic, racial and environmental.  It strives to build social cohesion. It holistically integrates planning, community education, advocacy, resident support and economic development in a defined neighborhood.

What is a Detroit Community Development Organization?

Community Development Organizations are known as CDOs in Detroit.     A CDO is a professional not-for-profit tax-exempt organization, and the key facilitator of community development work in a defined neighborhood. A CDO is a place-based organization accountable to local stakeholders (especially residents), who comprise the majority of its Board.  A CDO is distinguished from other organizations by its role as the “sustained voice” in the community it serves, often with other partners.  A CDO is a trusted neighborhood institution with strong relationships that knows stakeholders’ priorities and needs. 


Grass Roots Organizations (GROs) are equally important to successful community development.  GROs are volunteer associations that focus on small geographic areas or projects within a defined neighborhood.  Grass Roots Organizations partner with CDOs to create plans and carry out projects.


In Detroit, Community Development coordinates a set of strategies chosen by leaders within the neighborhood; strategies that are derived from locally-driven planning in partnership with city government, and aimed at building neighborhood power, social cohesion, physical amenities and great services.   Community Development embraces resident empowerment and strives for sustainability and equity (economic, social, racial and environmental).  Community development supports residents in their advocacy for their neighborhood: influencing positive change in city government practices, human services, safety, equitable development, environmental equity or school reform; or organizing around other related issues that affect the life of a neighborhood. In Community Development, residents and other stakeholders may choose to focus on a range of issues. In any given neighborhood, in addition to traditional physical development work, other community development strategies can include:

  • Youth and/or Senior Programming and Engagement
  • Community Health initiatives including food access and exercise, primary care access, or other health-related work
  • Local business support, business development and business organizing and the integration of local entrepreneurs into the community
  • Workforce development including job training and job placement services
  • Education – through advocacy for quality public education, early childhood education or other education strategies
  • Programs that celebrate local culture, including public art


Community Development can be recognized primarily by the five Community Development functions described below:

1.  Convening and Facilitating: Creating a Strong Voice for the Neighborhood
This is the distinguishing role of a CDO, working with its grass roots neighborhood partners: CDOs bring organizations and stakeholder together for planning, joint problem solving, community education, advocacy and physical development.  CDOs act as an intermediary between residents, city government and major private institutions.

2. Resident Engagement and Empowerment: Building Residents’ Power for Decision-Making
The priorities, plans and activities in the neighborhood should reflect the priorities of neighborhood residents. Residents are engaged in the work of the organizations serving that neighborhood. Residents have a decision-making role in the neighborhood, helping to define and name the neighborhood and building pride in the neighborhood.

3. Community Planning and Advocacy: Sustaining the Neighborhood
Partnering with residents, local stakeholders and City Government, looking at all aspects of community life in the defined area, with residents making key planning decisions and staying engaged to help carry out and advocate the plan.

4. Economic Development: Bringing Jobs, Physical Amenities and Necessities to the Neighborhood
Using an equitable development approach that reflects neighborhood priorities:  housing development/repair/rehab; commercial corridor development; business and/or entrepreneur development; vacant land reclamation and open space development; blight remediation and clean-up; recreational space development or other physical revitalization.

5. Resident Support: Nurturing Strong, Self-Sufficient, Successful Residents and Local Entrepreneurs
Helping to develop the capabilities of area individual residents  - especially young people - to help them realize their full potential.

Our partners make the difference

BECDD is a formal, structured collaboration between the ground-level CDOs and their partners in the government, philanthropy, academic, civic and business sectors. Below are our Co-Sponsors. For additional stakeholders and to learn how you can be involved, CLICK HERE.