The Boulevard House worked for the needs and benefits of the neighborhood, using the model of community-based participatory research (equitable collaboration) and empowerment evaluation (self determination). This model stems from the practice of settlement houses common in the 1800s, and provides space for observation and discussion while creating opportunities for community engagement, action and change initiatives. The premise of community-embedded research and action reflects five aspects of social change needed to produce positive and sustainable effects on the social, political and economic systems. These five aspects allow residents of the neighborhood to have control over their own environment, and include: comprehensiveness, synchrony, integration, long-term perspective, and inclusiveness.

The Boulevard House used ongoing community feedback and discovery in southwest Detroit to build on the settlement house idea. Our principles of practice were as follows:

  • Recognize community as a unity of identity
  • Build on strengths and resources within the community
  • Facilitate collaborative, equitable involvement of all partners in all phases of the research and practice
  • Integrate knowledge and intervention for mutual benefit of all partners
  • Promote a co-learned and empowering process that attends to social inequalities
  • Involve a cyclical and iterative process
  • Disseminate findings and knowledge gained to all partners
  • Involve long-term commitment by all partners

Call to Action

Between the 2008 and 2011, the economic downfall of Detroit effected community service programs. Detroit is increasingly recognized among critical social policy theorists as one of the first industrialized, Western democracy cities dramatically emerging from a post‐industrial to “neostructural” society. In Detroit, new forms of governance are emerging though a painful abrogation of democratically elected municipal leadership. Population declines generated fewer federal and state resources supporting the traditional range of community services; Detroit’s Department of Public Health and City of Detroit Human Services closed, with services eliminated or outsourced to the private sector.  Only a few programs survive and thrive through mergers, and many more community programs dramatically reduced services, merged or are in the process of closing.

A group of residents, university faculty, social workers from the People’s Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit, and four local advocacy groups (Museo del Norte Project, CLAVE, Fronteras Norteñas, and the Mexican Patriotic Committee) began looking at other Detroit neighborhoods which were successfully working to maintain community’s quality of life. As a result, the collaboration applied their knowledge of the settlement house ideal and its potential for the community to the vision of community work, creating a settlement house responsive to the 21st century.

This creative opportunity fit well with the engagement interests of CBI Scholars. The Community-Based Initiative (CBI) is a fellowship program at the University of Michigan School of Social Work begun in 1999. It works to create and sustain community and social change in urban cities, neighborhoods and communities, with a focus on Detroit. CBI students and faculty held core classes at the Boulevard House in conjunction with another fellowship, the National Community Scholars.

Boulevard House was a call to action to the community, CBI scholars, and all community allies to engage in creative, positive, self-determined change from the ground, up.