A Challenge Detroit Partnership

Creating a living barrier to make the community cleaner, better, and safer.


$2,500 to $5,500


Volunteer + Professional









After several meetings with community members, Challenge Detroit decided to install a hybrid design of two field guide concepts; Dumping Preventer, and Urban Edge. They chose these two designs because they offered aesthetic and also prevented unwanted access to the alley.  
Lot Type
Special Lot Condition
Project Name
A Challenge Detroit Partnership

A Challenge Detroit Partnership

Creating a living barrier to make the community cleaner, better, and safer.


A Challenge Detroit Partnership


$2,500 to $5,500

Project Timeline

04/08/2016 – 05/06/2016

Project Leader(s):

Mike Paciero & Emily Kempa from Challenge Detroit


Volunteer + Professional

Who Else Was Involved:

Nortown CDC (Pat Bosch), Black Family Development, 8-10 Challenge Detroit Fellows

Lot Design:

Urban EdgeDumping Preventer

Lot Type


Lot Size

Single Lot

Lot Address

8161 Rolyat St, Detroit, MI 48234

Describe the overall process for transforming your lot.

After much time looking through the field guide as a group, discussions with neighbors about what they wanted/envisioned, working through designs and sketches, considering the time we had available (5 weeks), and meeting with Nortown CDC, our lot design became a hybrid of two field guide concepts; Dumping Preventer, and Urban Edge. These two were chosen based on the current condition of the lot. It was all grass, situation between two occupied houses, nearly the only vacant lot on the block, and allowed access to the alley behind each lot. Our design goal was to close the lot off from the street so it would appear to be a side yard for the two houses on either side. Therefore, a planter bed using the strategy of the urban edge design was implemented in the front to allow for this look, and a planter bed in the back utilizing the dumping preventer was used. This would prevent access, and beautify the frontage from the street and prevent access from the alley with less vibrant, cheaper plants in the back.

Why did your organization choose to undertake a project that involved incorporating the Field Guide to Working with Lots?

In short, Challenge Detroit was partnered with Black Family Development and Nortown CDC to implement the lot design in this way. However, Nortown CDC was already collaborative partners in a LISC "Quality of Life" early action plan, along with Black Family Development (BFD)Osborn Neighborhood Alliance and others.  As Nortown understood it, BFD some mini grant funds that it needed to be utilized and saw DFC’s field guide as the best precedent and tool to show how a vacant lot could be upgraded by using specific planting guidelines. Challenge Detroit was also part of the collaboration since commitments had been made by DFC and BFD that Challenge Detroit would help design, plan, and plant the landscape materials per the DFC handbook.

How did implementing the Field Guide fit into your organization’s larger mission?

Two of Challenge Detroit’s core values are collaborate, and community and fellowship. As a third party implementing this lot design, careful collaboration was required and fostered in the neighborhood through BFD and Nortown CDC. Our goal was not to implement something the community was against or unaware of. Having this opportunity through BFD and Nortown allowed the Challenge Detroit Fellows to foster these values in a hands-on manner. In addition, it allowed Nortown CDC to continue beautifying the Osborn area to make it a cleaner, better, safer place to live.

What was the most surprising thing you’ve learned from using the Field Guide?

The most surprising thing we learned was about plants. There are so many different varieties and species that selecting your own without prior experience can be challenging. The field guide pre-selects plants per each design which is an immense help to those just getting started.

Was your project part of a larger plan, goal, or initiative within the community?

Not directly. The design was a one-off project. But there was talk of future lots being developed by Nortown CDC in this way and connecting projects via similar style murals on each.

Did Detroit Future City provide any technical assistance? How was your experience of that component, if so?

Detroit Future City provided design reviews each week until the design was finalized. Discussions with DFC were helpful because it kept us grounded as to what was possible. On paper, some things don’t look like a lot of work but they can be and DFC had the experience from other field guide implementations to provide insight to us.

How were community members involved in the process?

We spoke with each neighbor on either side individually to let them know what we were working on and organized a community meeting one evening where others from down the street and those who lived behind the lot on the next block attended. We showed them preliminary designs, and asked them to explain their vision for the lot and what type of activities they wanted or not wanted to see happen there. From there, we finalized our design. The Church across the street was also most helpful. They allowed us to store our tools inside their community room and offered to be responsible for watering the lot once we were finished.

Did you customize your lot design? If so, how?

Yes, we customized both designs we used. Mainly through the plant selection. We used slightly different plants than were specified in the field guide mainly because of availability and preference of Nortown CDC. For example, the dumping preventer guide called for barberry bushes which are prickly. Nortown preferred a less “dangerous” bush and opted for hydrangeas instead. Also, we altered the shape of the urban edge design, installing a curved planter bed instead of a straight front, and added a gate so that the grass in the middle of the lot could be mowed.

Is your current project part of a larger plan, goal, or initiative within your community?


Purpose of the Project:

Beautification. The lot was the only vacant lot on the street and the goal was to make that less obvious.

Lessons Learned
Land Acquisition

Nortown CDC owned the lot for many years already and engaged Challenge Detroit to design and complete the installation.

Skill Building

We learned a lot about the different kind of plants that we planted. Some of us had never heard of some of these plants and didn’t realize that plant selection was such a meticulous process based on amount of sunlight and watering that our lot would get. Also, most of us knew how to use the basic garden tools but we rented a rototiller and it was the first time many of us had used one.

Community Engagement

Each of the two next door neighbors were consulted on the lots design. This was critical since the lot is owned by a third party and the design would directly affect their homes. Other neighbors were also engaged in a community meeting. Since the work being done wasn’t directly organized by someone from the community it was important that the neighbors be engaged to address concerns.


Funding was provided by Black Family Development so no fundraising on Challenge Detroit’s end was necessary.



What was challenging about this process, and how did you adapt?

The most challenging part was the community coordination. The community was not adverse to us being there but getting in contact with many of them initially was a challenge because we were a third party and not part of the neighborhood. We relied on Nortown CDC to provide the connection to the neighborhood. It was challenging to work with and incorporate feedback from so many different stakeholders, including BDF and DFC, into the design in such a short time. Several of us had design backgrounds already and in the beginning over-complicated some areas of the design. We adapted through receiving stakeholder feedback and by returning to the core of the field guide design, remembering that DFC created the guide to provide a simplistic step by step method to transforming vacant lots.

What is the maintenance plan for this project after its first year?

Overall the lot will require little maintenance, one of our goals for the lot. Some light pruning and occasional weeding will be necessary to uphold the aesthetic, but this is not a regularly needed task. In terms of immediate care, the plants will need regular watering in order to establish a deep root system. The different varieties of plants we used all require similar care. They call for watering to a depth of ten inches once to twice per week within the first year. We recommend watering twice a week during stretches without rain, however we put down mulch to help defend against evaporation so watering each of the plant beds thoroughly once per week should be sufficient to sustain healthy growth. The Lily turf may need old foliage removed in the winter or before new foliage sprouts in the spring. Dogwood trees shouldn’t require pruning except when needed to remove dead branches. The hydrangeas can be pruned in the spring if desired. The plant beds can be weeded as needed while someone mows the lawn or during watering. The staff of the neighborhood church has agreed to water 8161 Rolyat as part of their grounds maintenance.