Graham Sustainability Institute

U-M to Head Detroit-Based Sustainability Research Effort

Thursday, December 10, 2009

— Article by Dustin Walsh, Crain's Detroit Business (Online Edition)

University of Michigan's Graham Sustainability Institute plans to tackle the city of Detroit's sustainability issues come March by gathering parties working on sustainability issues and integrating their research.

On Dec. 14 at UM's Detroit Center in Detroit, representatives from the Graham Institute will introduce the two-year project to community stakeholders — universities, sustainability organizations and city personnel — and begin to craft the assessment's focus.

The “integrated assessment” is designed to analyze Detroit's sustainability options using existing research, and create a usable baseline to develop policy.

“We're going to create a forum for groups to connect their work and integrate their results,” Callewaert said. “This isn't about generating new information, but synthesizing the information we have and facilitating the integration process.”

The assessment could have a broad scope, looking at transportation, green space, open space, food and infrastructure, or a narrow focus, looking at urban agriculture and green space.

“There's a lot of interest in the critical issue of right-sizing the city of Detroit right now,” said John Callewaert, integrated assessment program director for the Graham Institute. “Our integrated assessment will look at what the range of options to revitalize the city.

“There are plenty of challenges, but a pretty unique opportunity exists right now.”

Early next year, the institute will solicit research proposals from interested parties like UM, Wayne State University and University of Detroit Mercy, as well as local sustainability organizations, Callewaert said.

It will then organize six teams that will analyze existing research on sustainability in Detroit and reward a two-year $120,000 grant to each. A steering committee of Graham Institute representatives, and university and Detroit officials will oversee the project and draft the final report.

The project's estimated cost is expected to range from $1 million to $1.25 million. The institute has half of the funds now, and is seeking outside investments for the difference, Callewaert said.

The institute has been in contact with the Detroit City Council's research and analysis division to gain support for the project and place city officials on the steering committee. However, the city has not yet pledged official support.

Members of the Graham Institute have already met with community stakeholders like Detroit-based nonprofit Warm Training Center, which offers education and evaluation services on energy conservation, green building and sustainable development.

“I'm excited about the Graham Institute's assessment,” said Jacob Corvidae, Warm's green program manager. “It'll give us more solid data and ground support to help make a sustainable Detroit a reality.”

Warm's role in the project will be to connect all of the players, making it a top-to-bottom collaborative effort.

“If we tackle this citywide, instead of being the hop-along child of the sustainable movement, Detroit can have potential to become the poster child of the 21st century urban sustainable city,” he said.

For more information on the Graham Institute-led integrated assessment or to sign up for the meeting, go to graham.umich.edu.