02/24/2012 11:40 am ET Updated Apr 25, 2012

Hugging Those Walls Fills a Neighborhood With Love

On February 22nd, in a great day for Detroit and particularly east side residents in Morningside Commons and adjacent neighborhoods, General Motors Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson and his wife Karin provided the lead $1 million personal gift for Habitat for Humanity's Leaders to ReBuild Detroit campaign during a ceremony at DPS' Clark Preparatory Academy.

It would be tempting to blog about Detroit Public Schools', and voters', commitment to stabilize and improve these neighborhoods through the new $46.7-million high school -- East English Village Preparatory Academy -- a brand-new facility with a new academic focus, admissions process and programs, undergoing the final stages of construction 15 blocks away from yesterday's announcement site.

But my attention turned to a speaker invited to the podium toward the end of the event. Celeste Jackson, a Morningside resident who has lived in her Habitat home since 2009. Ms. Jackson and her four children (all DPS) put in 400 hours of time helping to build the house they today call home.

Ms. Jackson spoke of the investment in her home in a different manner. The personal and family energies put into physically completing the home provided her a much more personal relationship with the wood, plasterboard, shingles and beams that shelter and protect her and her children each day. Knowing where every beam is placed, where the mechanical systems run, the exact location of the secret messages scribbled on the hidden backside of the walls that surround her, she stated that she has a significantly different kind of understanding and respect for the building.

In my own neighborhood several miles to the west in Indian Village, longer-term residents as well as the most recent younger families have that same kind of intimate knowledge of the places we call home. In my 113-year old house, I know where most every pipe runs, where the beams are attached (and where after more than a century they sometimes detach a bit, in a quaint sort of way), and virtually every hidden and open passageway. In a number of cases, we too have worked on these homes, in my personal experience undoubtedly and literally thousands of hours over the 24 years I've stayed there. The result: homes are respected. Dwellings are maintained. Physical environments are kept clean. People work together when necessary to ensure that.

I don't know if the kind of relationship to one's physical space that my neighbors and I feel is that of which Ms. Jackson spoke, but my hunch is there's a lot of similarity. And my hope and trust is that this relationship will ensure that the millions of dollars in private and public investment in these communities will have the kind of long-term impact envisioned. When I saw a headline on an online news agency's website asking a question that only the cynical Michigan and Detroit-area media would ('Will the million dollar gift spur other leaders?') or when I contemplated a comment from a nearby resident that seemed to doubt the spill-over potential of these developments, I thought not so much about the obvious immense reach of the leadership gift announced yesterday, but instead of Ms. Jackson's personal relationship with her beams and plasterboard. I think they'll be well cared for, for many years.

Congratulations, Morningside, and to the residents nearby including those across the Grosse Pointe border, whose own community stability was equally protected yesterday.