On the vacant lot next to Dan Davis’ house on Washburn in Detroit, there is a homemade movie screen, a bonfire pit, a swing set, a barbecue grill and weights for working out.
Across the street, Davis turned a stretch of lots into a go-kart track and athletic field ringed by a wall of tires.
It’s all part of his goal to transform his block on the city’s west side into a place where families can have safe fun close to home. He mows the grass up and down the street and makes sure there’s no trash on the ground.
“He’s like an icon around here. What he does for the neighborhood, people look up to him for it,” said one of his friends, Michael Knight, 51.
Davis, 50, grew up in the area. As a child, he was always cleaning or fixing things. His mother made him clean up trash outside their house.
Inspired by an outdoor movie screen he saw at Campus Martius Park, Davis decided to build his own, using sheets of wood spray-painted white that he positioned on top of a metal stand. On warm nights, his neighbors gather around on lawn chairs as Davis uses a projector to play kid-friendly movies and music videos.
“Everybody comes out, about 10 to 15 people. … and then some people, they just sit on their porch and watch it, and it’s all good. It’s beautiful, lovely,” he said.
The same field holds a bench-press, dumbbells and a mirror. A few feet away sits a play set and swings. Basketballs and toys are scattered on the ground, and there is a sand pit for playing horseshoes.
Across from his house, Davis has created a year-round go-kart track on more than a half-dozen adjoining vacant lots. He collected more than 500 old tires from junkyards and tire shops and stacked them to build the border around the track. The field is also used for flag football and other games, and he hopes to one day play paintball there.
Nicknamed “the go-kart man,” Davis is a skilled mechanic who fixes and builds mini-bikes and go-karts. He shows the “little guys” — the boys in his neighborhood — how to fix them.
“It gives young kids something to do and teaches them values, because most of these kids have no leadership or respect,” said Demetrius Grant, 44, who lives in the neighborhood.
Davis has lived on Washburn near Wyoming and Grand River for about five years. His block includes some occupied houses, but there are several empty lots and vacant houses with crumbling facades.
“When I moved onto to this block … it took me almost three days just to pick up all the paper on the block, just walking up and down the street,” he said.
Davis has placed trash cans around to encourage people not to litter. On a recent day, the sidewalk in front of his house had pieces of colorful chalk — but not a speck of trash. Davis works in the summer sun, cutting grass on the go-kart field and on the multiple lots on both sides of the street around his house.
“He doesn’t let anyone cut that grass. He (is) the only one that can do that,” friend Christopher Wilson, 39, said smiling.
Davis said he hopes his efforts inspire other people to take pride in their neighborhoods. “Detroit is a good city,” he said. “And I know it has to be done to make the neighborhood good.”
For his efforts, Davis received a certificate of appreciation from his church, Gregg Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In his younger years, Davis got in trouble with the law for theft crimes. But he said his life changed when he became a father. Davis has two daughters, 5-year-old Dream and 4-year-old Justice. “Before my babies, it was just about what I want,” Davis said. “Now it can’t be what I want, it’s about what they need.”
For Dream’s birthday party last week, Davis decorated the tires around the go-kart track with balloons and streamers. Children laughed as they jumped around in an inflatable castle. A man grilled hot dogs as music blasted.
During the beginning of the party, Davis, dressed in a mechanic’s uniform, worked on the underside of a pickup. Nearby, a group of boys huddled around and watched closely as a man poured gasoline into a go-kart. A few minutes later, it went zooming down the street.
Davis looked around at the children and adults having fun and smiled.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s like watching a movie.”
article by Ariana Taylor via freep.com; writer Ann Zaniewski contributed to this report.