An abandoned elementary school in the heart of Highland Park, Michigan is targeted to become a new model of urban revitalization. Behind this vision is Juan Shannon, a lifelong resident of Highland Park and CEO of Modern Tribe Media. His vision is to jump-start development in the neighborhood by re-purposing the school into the most sustainable and innovative community center in the nation. The primary mission of Parker Village is to re-energize Highland Park’s economy by serving as a gathering place for career development, community building, mentoring, entrepreneurship, start-ups/enterprise incubation, and organic urban farming. This will all be accomplished on a property modeling innovative design, with Parker Village ultimately seeking a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification, the highest possible rating. The rehabilitated building will be retrofitted with blue infrastructure to conserve and recycle as much water as possible, and net-zero design features as well as a large solar power installation will provide the center with more sustainable energy than it consumes.
With boarded-up windows, overgrown weeds, and cracked pavement, the building and property may not look like much right now. But despite the need for repairs, the building’s location, infrastructure, and foundation make it a good fit for restoration and modernization. Parker Village will be developed in two-phases, throughout which the property will undergo a remarkable transformation. See images below comparing the current state of the property to digital renderings of the completed project.
Phase 1 will focus on developing the outdoor infrastructure and grounds of Parker Village. The property will be cleaned up and landscaped, and solar powered lighting will be installed throughout the campus along with a gated fence to keep the property safe and secure. Once the property is secured, construction will begin on a small Garden Café and an aquaponic urban farming system. The Café will serve as an initial community gathering space and will help raise awareness about Parker Village. The Café, along with the aquaponics farming system, will also help generate revenue for the project and provide employment opportunities.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (raising plants in nutrient rich water instead of soil). In an aquaponic system, rather than using expensive and inefficient filters/chemicals to remove fish waste from the water, the “waste” water is filtered by running it through plant beds. What is considered an undesirable waste product in traditional aquaculture becomes a valuable by-product in aquaponics. Nutrient-rich wastewater is used to grow fruits and veggies, and in turn the plants filter and oxygenate the water for the fish. Thus, the system is symbiotic and nearly self-sustaining. At Parker Village the aquaponic farming system, along with two advanced energy green houses, will provide the Café with fresh and organic ingredients, produce fresh veggies and fish to be sold at local farmers markets, and serve as a valuable educational resource.
Upon completion of phase 1, an ongoing program of community events will begin. From Free Yoga Saturdays, a community lecture series, movie nights, arts and craft shows, to a Food Truck Rodeo, the Parker Village team has lots of plans for fun and engaging events. See below for closer-up digital renderings of the café and aquaponic farming system.
Phase 2 is to renovate, repurpose, and retrofit the school buildings. With 43,000 square feet of renovated and flexible spaces powered by 200kw of solar power, potential and possibilities abound. Once the rehabilitation is completed, Parker Village and its mission will really come to life. When designating purposes for these spaces three factors aligning with the mission are prioritized; anything operating out of Parker Village will either provide residents of Highland Park with practical education/training, employment opportunities, or avenues for community building. Initial plans for how the spaces will be utilized include the following:
- STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) Lab: Programs will be implemented to teach practical and marketable skills in computer programming, cyber security, website/app design, and other STEAM based careers/trades to children and adults.
- CoWork Space: A flexible co-working space will be created to help incubate and promote start-ups and enterprises focused on technology, green/social initiatives, and media.
- Boutique & Gallery: This retail space will serve as a community shop, carrying clothing, art, music, and memorabilia for Parker Village, along with information on the history of Highland Park.
- Restaurant & Event Space: This rentable space will host a sit down restaurant featuring locally sourced ingredients, live entertainment, private events, and community events such as free movie nights.
- Rental space for small businesses and organizations: Community-oriented small businesses and non-profits will have the opportunity to base their operations/host events in Parker Village, thus contributing to the programming and services offered to the local community through the center and providing additional revenue.
A strong network of partnerships with individuals, organizations, and businesses that synergize with the mission of Parker Village is necessary to achieve this vision. More than ten community partnerships have already been established, one of which is with the GREAT Foundation (Grass Roots Environmental Action Team), which focuses on providing education and trade skill opportunities for children and adults to build healthy, sustainable, and empowered lives. Cathleen Francois, Executive Director of the GREAT Foundation, says “I’m very excited to be part of this project. Our Parker Village offices hope to be a landing site for planting and cultivating seeds of economic sustainability and positive support.”
In additional to having a valuable space to base its operations, GREAT will also benefit from having direct access to an on-site space through the STEAM Lab to run its social programming. By establishing symbiotic partnerships like this, Parker Village will grow a web of connections that foster a truly sustainable, intentional, and successful community.
Some people may only see an abandoned and decaying school, but the dedicated team behind Parker Village sees an opportunity to create something amazing. Highland Park is well situated with direct access to all major freeways as well as industrial and retail districts. The city of Highland Park, once renowned as the centerpiece of the industrial age, is “uniquely positioned to become the national jewel it once was and to lead the world once again in its technological innovation and infrastructure,” says Juan Shannon. Of course nothing will change over night, but Parker Village hopes to be the catalyst that puts Highland Park and its residents back on the map, and play a part in the larger narrative of Detroit’s revival.
For information on upcoming Parker Village events, such as clean-up meet-ups, fundraisers, and other ways you can support the project, visit: https://www.facebook.com/ParkerVillageHP/
For more information about the GREAT Foundation and how your support can help, visit: https://www.facebook.com/thegreatfoundation/
Sustainability Economics Specialist
Credit Architectural Renderings: OHM Advisors
Juan Shannon. Visionary, Urban Pioneer
Cathleen Francois. Executive Director, GREAT Foundation