Graham Sustainability Institute

The Rustbelt Herbarium

Project Photo

Project Team

Mark Lindquist - School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS)
Tony Reznicek - Herbarium, Research Museums Center
Daniel Phillips - SEAS and COMMONStudio
Kim Karlsrud - Penny Stamps School of Art and Design and COMMONStudio

Project Summary

Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted that “a weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Spontaneous vegetation, or weeds, are perceived as garbage in our gardens, but they may fill valuable roles in our local environments. Some weeds could filter out heavy metals in post-industrial field sites. Others filter the air for pollution. Even dandelions are vital, providing an early source of spring nectar for urban pollinators.

This project will re-consider urban vegetation, exploring whether these species provide important ecosystem services and their potential use in low-maintenance urban landscape management practices. The team will use a three-step approach to analyze existing data, convene community organizations, and synthesize findings to recommend improvements to landscape management. Building off a Fast Track Grant from the Graham Sustainability Institute, the team will analyze preserved specimens from Detroit and Flint and share photos and field notes over Instagram for public engagement. Next, the team will work with community organizations involved in the maintenance and transformation of marginalized and overgrown landscapes to understand their perspectives and current management practices. The ultimate aim is to co-develop a suite of fit-for-purpose urban vegetation management strategies that balance public safety, aesthetics, and biodiversity.

A reimagined urban commons will provide health and wealth from ecosystem services, job opportunities, and public enjoyment, which can be realized through partnerships across disciplines, strong public engagement, and mutual learning.

This project received a $10,000 Catalyst Grant in 2019.