CEDAM Eastpointe Fellow John Kraus Moves Sustainable Solutions Forward 

To continue celebrating the Community Development Fellowship’s 5-year anniversary, we will be catching up with both former and current fellows and host communities throughout the year. We’ll be reflecting on host communities’ progress, fellows’ growth, and the overall impact of the Community Development Fellowship. 

This month, we interviewed Ian McCain, Eastpointe’s economic development manager, as well as John Kraus, Eastpointe’s community development fellow.

CEDAM: What were you looking to gain when you applied to host a fellow?

Ian McCain, Eastpointe Economic Development Manager: When I became Eastpointe’s Economic Development Manager in November 2022, I quickly learned the department had a limited budget and resources, despite the clear need for community and economic development support. As a community builder, I look at this work through a holistic, long-term lens, which means sustainability must be a key element to a successful, vibrant local economy. I knew Eastpointe needed another set of boots on the ground to continue the great work of my predecessor, who was the first in her position for over five years due to budget cuts. I also knew we needed someone that could launch and lead Greenpointe, which prioritizes various sustainable solutions such as planting trees and native plants, exploring alternative energy sources (i.e., solar), installing green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), and educating residents on the importance of these implementations in the Great Lakes State amidst the threat of climate change. We were looking for a candidate who understood the importance of supporting diverse, legacy, and new local businesses, while also catalyzing systemic sustainability in the Gateway to Macomb County. We found this and so much more in Eastpointe’s Community Development Fellow, John Kraus!

CEDAM: Now that you’re more than halfway through with the Fellowship, what have you gained since hosting a fellow?

Ian: Through our mutually beneficial partnership between Eastpointe’s Economic Development Department, CEDAM, and John, we have been able to launch a number of great initiatives, attract funding for transformative projects, and follow frameworks to support economic development and sustainability for generations to come. While there are a number of ways John has made an impact, I’m going to focus on three.

John has successfully launched Greenpointe, our municipal sustainability initiative geared toward making the Gateway to Macomb County the “Greenest Pointe” in Metropolitan Detroit. Already, John oversaw the marketing, outreach, planning, and planting of nearly sixty trees on residential streets in 2023, and has plans to plant 100+ more on residential and commercial thoroughfares in 2024. He is also applying for a number of grants. He has already obtained $30,000 in funding to implement the Bioretention Streetscape Initiative (BSI), which will install green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) on Nine Mile Road between Gratiot and Grove Avenues.

John was also one of the lead grant writers on Eastpointe’s $1 million Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Revitalization and Placemaking (RAP) 2.0 Award for our Civic Pointe Community Gathering Space, which will create a multipurpose area for classes, concerts, events, markets, and more in the Gateway to Macomb County’s Downtown District. He is also playing a critical role in helping our Family Town secure matching funds for the project.

Last but not least, John is supporting the renewal of Eastpointe’s Redevelopment Ready Communities Certified Status through MEDC. He is also reviewing our sustainability work citywide, which we hope will allow us to become recognized as a Michigan Green Community in 2024 for the first time. John is a compassionate, thoughtful, energetic, hard-working, and indispensable member of Eastpointe’s team!

CEDAM: John, what is your favorite thing about Eastpointe?

John, Eastpointe fellow: My favorite aspect of working in Eastpointe has been the in-person interactions. They affirm the importance of my responsibilities as a fellow in the community development space. Highlighting the city’s legacy businesses and young entrepreneurs and engaging in discussions about their resilience and optimism amidst external factors, such as streetscape revitalization efforts, have been particularly fulfilling. These interactions have not only strengthened valuable relationships but also nurtured a sense of optimism among the small business community. Eastpointe’s Economic Development Department’s commitment to authentic community engagement and collaboration, and working with them and the city’s citizens, have certainly deepened my emotional ties to Eastpointe, making me feel part of a community where I don’t reside.

Co-facilitating an “Experience Eastpointe” video with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ (SEMCOG) professional videographer granted me the unique ability to capture the city’s dynamic and resilient spirit by showing a range of businesses, activities, and public spaces. This project, where my daughter was included at one point, deepened my connection to what Eastpointe has to offer. These important experiences and serving as an advocate for an authentic community are definitely my favorite takeaways as a fellow.

 

 

CEDAM: What improvements have come about as a result of your contributions?

John: I’ve played a key role in advancing Eastpointe’s sustainability and environmental equity improvements. I’m currently involved in the amendment of the city’s existing zoning and ordinances laws to include green infrastructure and low-impact development standards. This thorough planning effort ensures that Eastpointe’s urban growth is sustainable and remains environmentally conscious for current and future generations.

Additionally, I have obtained state funding for various projects, including transforming an underutilized DDA space into an outdoor civic gathering hub, as well as securing significant funding to boost Eastpointe’s tree equity improvement mission.

My grant writing efforts have collaboratively and independently yielded substantial financial support for these impactful projects. This funding will soon support the revitalization of an underutilized parking lot behind Eastpointe’s Public Library into a community gathering space, where flexible programming opportunities, such as a farmers market, can occur year-round for all ages to enjoy. A $40,000 grant from the MI DNR Urban and Community Forestry program late last year has taken my Greenpointe Tree Equity Improvement Initiative to new heights, as I focus on laying a solid foundation for urban forestry management planning with a comprehensive street tree inventory serving as a local resource. This funding is crucial for mitigating urban heat islands and laying the groundwork for a greener, more resilient Eastpointe that both residents and businesses can benefit from.

These efforts in securing grant funding also aim to support wider objectives around making parks more accessible, improving the quality of outdoor communal spaces, and increasing community engagement opportunities.

I am also strengthening Eastpointe’s regional presence as a Task Force member with SEMCOG. This role has allowed me to share Eastpointe’s progress and commitment as a designated Justice40 community, bringing valuable awareness to our efforts that pertain to improving environmental equity conditions in SE Michigan. My engagement with SEMCOG has been instrumental in positioning Eastpointe as an important contributor toward advancing regional sustainability planning processes, ensuring that our local efforts resonate on a broader scale.

CEDAM: What does your participation in the fellowship mean to you?

John: Participating in the Fellowship with CEDAM means a great deal to me. It has been an unparalleled opportunity to apply my skills and passion for community development in a meaningfully authentic way. This experience has provided me with a deeper appreciation for the operational layers of local government, especially in the context of urban planning and development. Being able to contribute to tangible projects that enhance the quality of life in Eastpointe has been incredibly rewarding. The Fellowship has also leveraged my growth, both professionally and personally, challenging me to push beyond my comfortable boundaries and enabling me to build lasting relationships with community members and leaders in their respective fields.

I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to serve in such a dynamic and supportive environment that is community-based. The experiences I’ve gained during this Fellowship have profoundly shaped my perspective on community development, reinforcing my commitment to creating equitable, sustainable, and vibrant communities as a professional in this expansive field.

CEDAM manages the Community Development Fellowship with support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). Fellows are placed in communities engaged or certified in Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC) for fifteen months and work on a variety of projects to expand organizational capacity, increase local collaboration, and remove barriers to development. For more information about the Community Development Fellowship, visit our website.