This story begins in a poor city near Detroit, where water has been cut off and street lamps have been removed and most residents have moved away. In a poor neighborhood in this city, a retired woman decided to turn the situation around in a way that I find truly amazing and inspiring… 

Shamayim Harris (Mama Shu as her friends and volunteers call her) has no background in urban planning, but she does have a creative and visionary mind and has always treated her neigborhood as a community. After her son was hit by a car and died in 2007, Mama Shu cleared the trash from an abandoned lot nearby and turned it in a community park named after her son. The park still exists and is a gathering place where events are being organised regularly. 

But Mama Shu didn’t stop there. In recent years, water has been cut off and street lamps have been removed due to Highland Park’s city council’s outstanding bills. Shamayim decided to take her fate into her own hands and started a kickstarter campaign to build a community hub: Avalon Village. And because the inhabitants know they can’t rely on basics like water and electricity, Avalon Village will be an “eco-village”, relying on solar power, rain water and geothermic heat. 

Not only basic utilities will be sustainable and newly developed; there are plans to breathe new life into a big part of the neighborhood. A place called Goddess Market will be built next to Mama Shu’s house: a marketplace where owners of small businesses can sell their products. There are also plans to build greenhouses, a place for kids to study and get help with their homework, a welness centre and a cafe. 

This story struck me, because this woman managed to take the problems in her neglected area and managed to turn them around in a way that I think is incredible. In her own modest words: “it’s grief turning into joy”. I can’t wait to see what the village will look and be like when it’s finished.

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