Leveraging environmental restoration to advance economic and social revitalization in Michigan’s coastal communities: sustaining community leadership and restoration gains

Client Organization: 
Michigan Office of the Great Lakes (MOGL)
Project Location : 
Lansing, MI, USA
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives:

In this Masters Project we will work directly with the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes (MI-OGL) and selected (perhaps 4-6) coastal communities to determine how best to continue the momentum from restoring heavily degraded Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC) into the next phase of community revitalization and economic and social development. The SEAS Project Team will consider: (1) how to sustain both community leadership and restoration of nearshore ecosystem condition and services accomplished throughout the AOC process, including possible policies, programs, structures, processes, funding, and other measures to sustain momentum into the next phase of revitalized economic and social development; and (2) how best to integrate gains in understanding the nearshore ecosystem into ongoing urban planning processes and cultures.  The Team’s final report will be presented as recommendations to the MI-OGL.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance:

Michigan’s 14 Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) reflect the state’s legacy of industrial development, and the resulting environmental degradation of tributaries and nearshore ecosystems. This legacy of heavily impacted waterfront areas has long posed a significant obstacle to promoting new economic development and recreational uses in coastal communities. The AOCs were designated under the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and have been undergoing a process of systematic cleanup and restoration since that time, led by federal and state agencies and with substantial involvement from local communities. This process accelerated significantly under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a comprehensive federal restoration program for the Great Lakes begun in 2010. Several of Michigan’s AOCs have been formally “delisted” (removed from the list of AOCs) in recent years or are nearing this historic milestone. For their proximate communities, this presents a new opportunity to leverage environmental restoration to move beyond a degraded “rust belt” status; think inclusively about the potential ecological and societal (economic, health, and equity) aspects of a next, more vital and prosperous, future stage.  

Specific Activities & Duration: 

For Objective #1, the student team will combine application of literature on community engagement in government programs, maintaining ecological restoration, and quantifying nearshore ecosystem services; with direct engagement with selected AOC coastal community leadership, using a comparative case study approach.  For Objective #2, the student team will engage with communities to co-develop spatial, “story-maps” of ecosystem structure, function, and associated services and work with municipal leaders and urban planners to explore how best to integrate this information into planning, zoning, economic development, and related processes.  Secondary advisors will include: (1) Matt Doss (Great Lakes Commission), who brings a wealth of experience with the AOC program; and (2) Dr. Joel Hoffman, (USEPA, Office of Research and Development, Duluth), who leads a research group also examining the transition from “restoration to revitalization” for AOC coastal communities.

Integrative Approach: 

The challenge of revitalizing coastal communities degraded by legacy pollution and industrial impacts requires attention to multiple dimensions and attributes, including environmental, economic, social, and cultural conditions and values. The ideal SEAS Project Team will bring integrated skills across disciplines, including governance, behavioral change, urban planning, economics and business development, ecosystem services, environmental remediation, aquatic ecology, community outreach, and conservation planning.  Team members should have an intellectual curiosity to explore and integrate multiple disciplines (including those with which they are less familiar), and a desire for engaged learning with the various actors within the AOC program community. 

This course will be further integrated with classes from several other UM schools/departments (Business, English, Law, Urban Planning), that will focus on complementary aspects of post-AOC coastal community revitalization. The SEAS Project Team will meet regularly with these sister efforts to forge a series of integrated products.  Across-campus coordination is provided through the Michigan Engaging Communities through the Classroom (MECC) initiative. 

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Justice
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Paul Seelbach
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Collin Knauss
  • Juliana Lisuk
Project Status: 
In Progress