block group founder thrilled to be part of detroit shoreway renewal

It can be said that not only did Buck Harris live and work in Cleveland's Detroit Shoreway neighborhood before it was cool, he also had a hand in making the community cool in the first place.

Harris, a Lakewood native, has lived in the near west side neighborhood for 35 years, opening in 2002 a yoga studio called There’s No Place Like Om. Running a business at that time was a risk, but it wasn't the first Harris has taken when it comes to his beloved community. In 1992, he founded Bridge Brigade, "a guerilla-type community action group" created to push back against the crime that was inundating Bridge Avenue between W. 45th and W. 58th streets.

In those days, street corners were manned by gangs, drug dealers and prostitutes, while the surrounding neighborhood was blighted with dilapidated homes. Bridge Brigade members would patrol the streets in specially marked cars, using a CB radio to inform police of blatant criminal activity. Members also put up signs throughout the neighborhood to let drug dealers know they were being watched.

"We got chased a couple times," says Harris. "Things could get pretty hairy."

This year marked two milestones for Harris and his Bridge Brigade. The block group celebrated its 20th anniversary last summer with a street festival. In early November, the group's founder received an award for his good work from the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.

Harris, who shared the community service award with life partner and fellow Bridge Brigade member Michael O'Connor, is proud to be one of Detroit Shoreway's "urban pioneers," he says. Along with the yoga studio, Harris also owned a restaurant in the neighborhood, and he's been thrilled to have been at ground zero for such area revitalization efforts as the Gordon Square Arts District.

Bridge Avenue, in particular, has seen an upswing with new townhouse projects and more. "I never would have believed the street would look like what it does today," says Harris. "There are people out jogging and walking. There was a time when people were afraid to walk around."

Ironically, the community's renewal is doing well to make Bridge Brigade nearly obsolete. "Attendance has definitely dropped," Harris says. "There's no longer a threat to fight."

That is not a bad problem to have, notes the block group founder. "I love the diversity here, and the proximity to West Side Market," says Harris. "Helping to create a neighborhood is a nice feather in my cap."

SOURCE: Buck Harris
WRITER: Douglas J. Guth
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