Graham Sustainability Institute

NEW-GI: Neighborhood, Environment, and Water research collaborations for Green Infrastructure

Achieving social and environmental benefits in legacy cities through green stormwater infrastructure on vacant land

NEW-GI (Neighborhood, Environment, and Water research collaborations for Green Infrastructure) contributes to knowledge about green infrastructure in legacy cities by integrating research about water quality, community well-being, governance, and ecological design. Involving community, government and academic collaborators, it produces evidence-based guidance for sustainably managing stormwater in ways that enhance landscapes and the lives of residents in Detroit and other legacy cities.

NEW-GI ecological designs link Detroit’s vacant property demolition process with new forms of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) that aim to manage stormwater as well as increase nearby residents’ well-being. This research uses a transdisciplinary design-in-science approach in which researchers, practitioners, and community members work together to contribute knowledge addressing social and ecological objectives. NEW-GI researchers assess the performance of different GSI designs and governance approaches. This assessment provides evidence for making decisions about how GSI can better achieve objectives.

PHASE ONE (2014-2015): In NEW-GI’s first phase, project collaborators developed bioretention flower garden designs and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) constructed two research designs on four pilot sites on vacant lots owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) in the Warrendale neighborhood in the Cody Rouge area of Detroit’s Upper Rouge Tributary (URT) area. Water quality monitoring was begun on the four pilot sites. An initial survey of 163 nearby neighborhood residents was conducted to understand residents’ perceptions of the designs and of their neighborhood. Researchers also studied aspects of governance in Detroit and Cleveland that affect the implementation and maintenance of GSI on vacant property.

PHASE TWO (2016-2019): In NEW-GI’s second phase, the project team provided guidance to inform GSI development throughout Detroit. Researchers developed lower-maintenance alternatives to the pilot designs and conducted a post-construction survey to assess how residents perceive the pilot gardens and lower-maintenance alternatives, their impacts on residents’ well-being, impacts on the quantity and quality of water entering the sewer system, and the ways in which existing governance systems in legacy cities around the nation shape GSI installation and maintenance. Drawing on analyses of the post-construction survey, stormwater management data on water quality and quantity collected at the pilot sites, results of a study of “what works” in GSI governance in other cities, and on key findings in scholarly literature, the project team produced guidance documents for local decision-makers and other GSI stakeholders.

Funding: Phase one and two of NEW-GI were supported by grants from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. In 2016, a companion project was also funded by the foundation, see: Detroit River Watershed Assessment of Phosphorus Loads to Lake Erie.

Research Team

Joan Nassauer, U-M School for Environment & Sustainability - Contact email: newgi-contact@umich.edu 
Alicia Alvarez, U‐M Law School
Allen Burton, U‐M School for Environment & Sustainability
Margaret Dewar, U‐M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Urban & Regional Planning Program
Shawn McElmurry, Wayne State Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Catherine Riseng, U‐M School for Environment & Sustainability
Natalie Sampson, Department of Health & Human Services, U-M Dearborn
Amy Schulz, U‐M School of Public Health
Noah Webster, U-M Institute for Social Research

Transdisciplinary Advisory Committee

Palencia Mobley, P.E., Chair, Deputy Director and Chief Engineer, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department
Katy Trudeau, Deputy Director, Detroit Planning & Development Department
Kevin Robishaw, Manager, Inventory, Detroit Land Bank Authority
Matthew Williams, Planner, West Region, Detroit Planning & Development Department
Khalil Ligon, Lead Urban Planner, East Region, Detroit Planning & Development Department
Kenyetta Campbell, Executive Director, Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance
Lisa Wallick, P.E., Stormwater Management Group Manager, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department
Barbara Matney, President, Warrendale Community Organization
Betsy Palazzola, General Manager, Detroit Department of Housing and Revitalization
Jodee Raines, Ex-Officio, Vice President of Programs, Erb Family Foundation
Carol Hufnagel, Ex-Officio, National Wet-Weather Practice Leader, Tetra Tech

NEW-GI Publications

Publication CoverNEW-GI Advisory Brief  by Joan Iverson Nassauer, Margaret Dewar, Shawn McElmurry, Natalie R. Sampson, Alicia Alvarez, G. Allen Burton Jr., Catherine Riseng, Amy Schulz, Noah J. Webster, & Nathaniel Lichten. An introduction to the NEW-GI project with preliminary results of a 2015 pre-construction survey of residents living nearby vacant property selected as pilot sites for NEW-GI stormwater bioretention gardens. Read more or request download.
Publication CoverGreen Infrastructure on Vacant Land: Achieving Social and Environmental Benefits in Legacy Cities by Nathaniel Lichten, Joan Iverson Nassauer, Margaret Dewar, Natalie R. Sampson, & Noah J. Webster. An in-depth review of peer-reviewed literature relevant to implementation of GSI on vacant land and its potential effects on neighborhood well-being. Read more or request download.
Publication CoverGreen Infrastructure on Vacant Land: Mitigating Aquatic Stressors of Urban Ecosystems through Green Stormwater Infrastructure by G. Allen Burton Jr., Shawn P. McElmurry, & Catherine Riseng. Scholarly research on the effects of GSI on urban stormwater flows and water quality. Read more or request download.
Publication CoverDifferent Contexts, Different Designs for Green Stormwater Infrastructure by Joan Iverson Nassauer & Yuanqiu Feng. A look at how local conditions including existing grey infrastructure can drive the scale of GSI design to achieve different multifunctional benefits. Read more or request download.
Publication CoverMaking Governance Work for Green Stormwater Infrastructure on Vacant Land in Legacy Cities by Margaret Dewar, Grace Cho, Rebecca Labov, Moira Egler, & Alicia Alvarez. Research on how seven US cities with post-industrial population loss have navigated governance challenges to implement GSI on vacant land. Read more or request download.
Publication CoverGreen Stormwater Infrastructure on Vacant Land: An Integrated Assessment with Implications for Detroit by Joan Iverson Nassauer, Natalie R. Sampson, Noah J. Webster, Margaret Dewar, Shawn McElmurry, G. Allen Burton Jr., & Catherine Riseng. A summary of refereed literature that addresses social and environmental performance and governance of GSI, and results of NEW-GI’s analyses of the performance of bioretention garden pilot sites in Detroit’s Warrendale neighborhood. This report integrates assessments of water quality, stormwater flows, residents’ preferences, neighborhood well-being, and the maintenance characteristics of 18 different design alternatives for GSI on vacant property in residential neighborhoods. Read more or request download.