Detroit Future City Presents: Lots of Stories, Featuring Ms. Dorothy Baker

In July of 2014, Dorothy Baker, a resident of Detroit’s east side since 1966, received a manila envelope that would change the course of her summer.  To Baker, land beautification in the Osborn community is very much needed. When she saw a lot ownership ad from the Detroit Land Bank Authority, she seized the opportunity to go after her former neighbor’s lot after the house that once stood there burned down 4 years ago.
DFC’s Field Guide to Working with Lots was first introduced to Baker by Black Family Development Inc. (BFDI), a nonprofit she had worked with in the past. Looking for something fun and creative to do for the spring season, she began learning about the DFC Field Guide and its 34 lot design options with Andrea Perkins, a community planner at BFDI. 

Baker uses a walker, so she knew her lot design had to be one with a minimal upkeep regimen.  DFC’s Four Seasons lot design was the clear champion, as it would allow her to maintain the lot herself for most of the year.
According to Baker, gearing up for Planting Day was almost stress-free. “I know what it’s like to get down and dirty”, recalling her childhood years in Mississippi growing corn and cotton.

BFDI allotted $5,000 to implement DFC’s lot design in Baker’s side lot. After purchasing supplies and securing volunteers from the Kresge Foundation to help with planting, the tab came down to less than $4,200.
“We had a lot left over, too,” said Andrea Perkins. “We didn’t know how much we needed, so we over purchased.” The excess material was planted in a local park, and BFDI plans to use the remainder of their budgeted money toward transforming more side lots next summer.
Baker was also able to customize her Four Seasons lot design. Planning for the possibility of new neighbors, she wanted her design to form a semi-private barrier. When the property next door gets sold, it would be centered beautifully with whatever gets placed there.
Planting Day took place on Friday, September 24, 2015. Baker’s favorite part of the process was watching the volunteers work together to help her finish this project. “Everybody that knows me began to say, you deserve somebody doing for you because all you know how to do is do for others. If you could save the world [Ms. Baker], you would.”

Prior to retirement, Baker spent five years working with those diagnosed with severe or persistent mental illnesses at Community Mental Health. When her son was born with a developmental disability, she created the "Early-On" program at the Children's Hospital of Michigan, and devoted the next decade and a half of her life to supporting developmentally disabled children from birth to three years old.

It’s not every day that one finds a story as unselfish as that of Baker’s. Pooling community resources to build capacity around blight removal is what inspired the creation of the DFC Field Guide.
Baker was surprised when she answered her front door to see that some of the volunteers had returned to share the fruits of their labor with family members. “I was like the star of the show at the time!” said Baker.
A Few Helpful Tips from Dorothy Baker:

  • Get cozy with the resources in the DFC Field Guide workbook and on the website. They can help to narrow down a lot design that best fits your property and save you time.
  • Don’t underestimate your green thumb; plants can flourish with even a little tender loving care.
  • Put signage on your lot! It’s great to see who’s leading these wonderful projects around the city, even if it’s just YOU.

With two projects completed last fall, and eight more happening next spring, the Osborne community is becoming a hub for vacant land transformation in the city. DFC’s A Field Guide to Working with Lots proudly joins the ranks of land beautification efforts here in Detroit. So don’t be surprised to find Baker outside next spring with a rake in one hand and her cane in the other. The great part about her story lies in knowing that we all get to be part of Detroit’s transformation.
The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office works closely with Black Family Development through the Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit Initiative. DFC offers technical Assistance and Strategy Development through the Osborne Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative.

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