Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of Alley Maintenance in the City of Detroit

Client Organization: 
The Villages Community Development Corporation (TVCDC)
Project Location : 
Detroit, MI, USA
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives:

TVCDC us a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to accelerating economic development in the Villages of Detroit, a collection of neighborhoods located on Detroit’s near eastside, the boundaries of which are Mt. Elliott to Cadillac, and the Detroit River to Mack. One of the neighborhoods within TVCDC’s service footprint is West Village, site of one of the city’s first Green Alleys, or an alley that incorporates green infrastructure as part of its central function and use for stormwater management and placemaking purposes. The West Village Green Alley serves an important case study and will provide an important demonstration of innovative green infrastructure and potential innovative public financing within the City of Detroit.

This project seeks to assess the state of ownership of alleys across the City, an unprecedented task that will enable future evaluation and risk assessment of an often overlooked but essential infrastructure and connectivity medium for urban development. Beyond assessing the state of ownership, this project will take a closer look at the physical condition of alleys within District 5 of the City of Detroit (the District to which all TVCDC neighborhoods belong) and triage what aspects of alley improvement and maintenance can result in more sustainable neighborhood development to inform future city and neighborhood planning initiatives.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance: 

Real-world experience from the West Village Green Alley project has uncovered that there is no central clearinghouse of alley statistics within the City of Detroit, despite the crucial role alleys play as “arteries” to city movement. This research is critically important because it will survey and provide the first-ever look at the state or condition of all alleys in the city, which are either “vacated” by the city (fall to private property ownership) or owned by the city.

Alleys in Detroit host a number of utility lines and infrastructure systems. Without understanding these neglected pathways, future city development risks discounting the environmental impact of development along and upon surfaces that constitute a significant land area within the city. So far, no known estimates of this area or exact alley coverage by ownership exist.

Finally, a better understanding of stormwater runoff from Detroit alleys will inform development of the Detroit Water and Sewer Department’s (DWSD) new stormwater drainage fee program that charges DWSD account holders for all impervious surface area that contributes to runoff from an account’s property boundaries.

Specific Activities & Duration: 

The research methods appropriate to tackle this question include working in conjunction with the City of Detroit’s Department of Public Works (DPW), studying existing plans and maps and creating layers of new mapped systems that survey existing conditions. Beyond a land survey, research can include studying stormwater runoff patterns and calculating annual stormwater runoff volumes and runoff rates in alleys, and the impact these quantified stormwater impacts have on the city’s drainage system. The calculated infrastructural cost of neglecting these alleys will also be important to determine. The scale of these studies present a reasonable effort for five students over 16 months.

Integrative Approach: 

The proposed research will engage multidisciplinary departments from around the city, community organization stakeholders, and sustainability and planning professionals. Furthermore, the opportunity to quantify costs presents the opportunity to research innovative financing systems associated with alley improvements and maintenance, an area that is only broached with the West Village Green Alley project but that requires more data and research to understand the potential for significant city development impacts.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Sustainable Systems
Landscape Architecture
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Mark Lindquist
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Roberto Astudillo
  • Shruti Soni
  • Wona Sung
  • Xinyi Wang
Project Status: 
In Progress