Highland Park environmental activists help inspire award-winning documentary ⋆

A group of Highland Park residents on Saturday screened an award-winning documentary centered on grassroots groups combating the climate crisis and seeking environmental justice that included their neighbors. 

“How to Power a City” is a documentary directed by award-winning filmmaker and Pace University professor Melanie LaRosa, was shot in several locations around the U.S. including the Southeast Michigan city, which is located within Detroit’s corporate boundary. The film documents similar resilient, grassroots efforts in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, New York and Puerto Rico. 

The event was co-hosted by local group Soulardarity and Parker Village, both featured in the film. The screening took place on a green space owned and operated by Parker Village, a Highland Park community-based, solar-powered center where vegetables are grown.

Juan Shannon, a longtime Highland Park resident who has worked to improve conditions in the city, is featured in the documentary. He believes that the community-based solar effort is improving the quality of life for residents.

“I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to be part of a community,” Shannon said. 

At one time, the Parker Village site was an abandoned elementary school and a source of blight in the city. Now it represents an opportunity to help a city that was once more than twice its size with a strong middle class rise again.

The documentary highlights how Highland Park residents rallied to create Soulardarity several years ago, after DTE Energy removed Highland Park’s lighting system in 2011 leaving residents literally in the dark when night fell. The group rallied to replace residential street lights with community-owned solar. 

DTE Energy removed the light bulbs in 1,400 light poles, according to WWJ radio reporting at the time.  

“This, as part of a settlement that lets the city avoid paying $4 million in unpaid bills going back several years,” the report read. 

DTE spokesperson Len Singer told WWJ the deal saves Highland Park about $50,000 each month. 

A solar-powered street light on Buena Vista Street in Highland Park. | Ken Coleman

Solar-powered street light in Avalon Village in Highland Park | Ken Coleman

Parker Village in Highland Park | Ken Coleman

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) joined community activists at a Tuesday press conference at Parker Village in Highland Park where they called for the passage of the Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act. | Ken Coleman photo

Juan Shannon | Ken Coleman photo


“At the direction of the city we have removed most of those street lights and before we did we had put in replacement lights, about 200 new [higher-efficiency] lights, primarily at street corners and intersections,” Singer said at the time.

Soulardarity installed five streetlights at Avalon Village, a community space dedicated to uplifting children through education and recreation, and another five streetlights at Parker Village in 2021.  

“We are set to install another 10 lights this year,” said Shimekia Nichols, executive director of Soulardarity. The lights are funded by donations from individuals and foundations. 

Meanwhile, Michigan House and Senate members are continuing a bipartisan push this session to allow communities to generate their own energy with community solar projects, while continuing to pursue changes to the state’s energy policies.  

authored by Ken Coleman
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F07%2F03%2Fhighland-park-environmental-activists-help-inspire-award-winning-documentary%2F

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