DETROIT (WXYZ) — He fought for our country and now he's fighting for his Detroit neighborhood.
Ronald Matten is turning blight into beauty by creating safe spaces that empower the people who live on an eight-block stretch on Detroit's west side. They clean alleys, abandoned lots and Matten has begun buying up the land to transform empty homes and lots into useful spaces.
Now he's preparing for national recognition on Friday that could fast track his big picture plans.
“I said something’s got to be better, better here,” Matten said.
He's is veteran with a vision, and served in the Air Force for 33 years.
Matten traded in fighter jets for flowers, and is going to battle for eight blocks in Detroit that covers Dexter to Linwood along The Lodge service drive, and from The Lodge to Fenkell.
“To try to bring some life back to this area, that’s what I’ve been doing since 2006,” Matten says.
A couple of years ago he started the nonprofit Demographic Inspirations Detroit, and began purchasing and transforming vacant lots on Fairfield. He created a winding path through a sustainable butterfly garden.
"I’ve seen a lot of monarch butterflies and bumblebees and rabbits," Matten said.
He also set up an irrigation system powered by mother nature.
"We have the rain barrel we have the rain totes there," he pointed out.
There is a gazebo, several benches to sit and enjoy the beauty of space the neighborhood is already using.
"We’ve had horses in this area," Matten said, adding that someone even used it for a wedding. "We had a bouncy house."
Adjacent lots are filled with raised garden beds and he plans to grow excess.
"So we can not only feed the community but do the entrepreneurship with the farmers market," Matten said.
The winding walking path leads you to a gazebo, a space the neighborhood is already using. On the other eight blocks the main focus for now is cleaning alleys and vacant lots, but his big picture plans go far beyond blight removal and beautification.
"Rehab the homes that we can and give them to the veterans so they can transition from homelessness to home ownership," Matten said.
He also wants to build tiny houses out of shipping containers for the veteran community and create training and support programs.
He's been sowing the seeds and now cable network VH1 is helping them grow. On Friday, VH1 is filming a television special featuring Matten's nonprofit and community work. They will bring a Little Caesars food truck and give away free pizza.
"They told me YoYo the rapper is going to be here as well," Matten said.
Matten needs to recruit 100 volunteers to build, clean up and weed in the eight block stretch during Friday's VH1 shoot. If you'd like to be a part of it, show up to the lot on Fairfield just south of The Lodge Friday at 8:30 a.m. ready to get dirty and help get work done! They will be there until 3 p.m.
For more information on Matten's nonprofit, click here.