Meet Emerging City Champions: Bucky and Richard

Bucky and Richard have been working on their ideas, and a year after launching projects to make their cities more engaged, happy and beautiful, they have accomplished a lot. Find out what what they’ve learned and where they’re going next.

by Emma Jones, Jonathan von Ofenheim

Bucky Willis
Detroit, Michigan

Meet the champ:
Bucky Willis is an architect from Detroit, Michigan. She’s the founder of Bleeding Heart Design (BHD), a non-profit organization striving to create spaces that support developing altruism in Detroit.

“I think that buildings have the power to influence people to be more caring and loving. And part of the research I’ve done in the past is trying to figure out how to expedite feelings of love between strangers,” she says. “So really, the organization is a research project in itself.”

How she’s innovating:
Through Bleeding Heart Design, she is heading up the Skyscape Project, which will transform a dilapidated commercial building in Lindale Gardens, a low-income neighbourhood in Detroit, with very few commercial or public spaces, into a neighbourhood hub.

Willis’ creative project comes in the wake of major demolition: Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan, has destructed over 10,000 abandoned buildings, part of an aggressive community revitalization initiative to tear down over 40,000 homes and commercial buildings.

“The idea is that, because we have so many abandoned buildings in Detroit, start to think of them more creatively instead of just tearing them down and losing all that history,” says Willis.

In collaboration with the Lindale Gardens Community Association and the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, the $114,000 project aims to create a space where residents can imagine and implement workshops, events or social gatherings. It is set to open in the low-income neighbourhood by the end of 2017.

“What I like to think is that it will be a space where people can be their best selves,” she says. “So if they want to host any kind of workshop, they can teach something about their expertise. It’s like a platform for our residents.”

Richard Young
Lexington, Kentucky

Meet the champ:
Richard Young leads the North Limestone Community Development Corporation, which he co-founded at age 24. It was the first community development organization based on the power of place in Lexington.

How he’s innovating:
Young is also the creator of LexVote, a nonpartisan initiative that produced inexpensive paper signs giving citizens in Lexington, Ky. the information they needed to participate in the 2016 presidential election process.

The key to this work lies in its simplicity, says Young. The signs, customized for each neighbourhood, told community members which voting district they were a part of, and where and when they could cast their votes.

The result? Kentucky did see an increase in votership from 44.9 per cent in 2014 to 56.1 per cent in 2016. In Lexington, each LexVote precinct saw an increase as well.

“We did see an increase in turnout in these districts,” says Young. “It was a pretty contentious election, so we don’t want to claim causation.”

Young-(left) and Meredith Wadlington put up voter guide at a transit stop


Young’s posters showed residents when, where and how to vote.

Young is taking the LexVote’s momentum and replicating its simple model; he is now focused on encouraging people to get involved in hyperlocal issues. For his newest project, he installed TV screens across the city that will inform residents about public political meetings and events. After Trump’s election, he says these local conversations are more important than ever.

“We need to focus on our city, then focus on our state,” he says. “We need to just retreat back into our place and then start building a better way to have dialogue and discourse.

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