Building upon its mission to have a real-world impact for people, communities and businesses, the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) launched the SEAS Sustainability Clinic in 2021. Its goal: improve the ability of the City of Detroit and nonprofits serving the city to address the impacts of climate change on the natural and built environment, human health and the city’s finances—while working to enhance sustainability policy and action and provide students with real-world experiences and hands-on professional training needed to interact most effectively with underserved communities.
The Clinic was created to build long-term capacity and partnership by embedding itself in Detroit—while boosting the local impact of SEAS’ work and collaboration on sustainability and equity. Using a single point of contact approach, the Clinic will facilitate connections between Detroit residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses and city government to the resources and issue-specific expertise available to them through the Clinic. This will allow for easier and durable access to collaborators, graduate students, internships and projects with multi-year engagement opportunities that provide the capacity to produce real, tangible and lasting results for Detroit residents and their communities. Through our approach of collaboration and “listening first,” we will be responsive to community needs as the Clinic evolves.
The Clinic’s work to advance sustainability in Detroit will include three areas of focus:
- Seek equitable and just solutions to the city’s most pressing sustainability-related issues;
- Lower operating costs—particularly in energy management for city operations—while reducing carbon emissions; and
- Support the delivery of services directly to the city and, through partner programs, improve residents’ quality of life.
Efforts to achieve these goals will target five primary areas:
- Energy and water justice (in particular, drinking water access and affordability);
- Green infrastructure and neighborhoods;
- Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda;
- Erb Corps (a new Detroit-oriented program at U-M’s sustainability and business-focused Erb Institute); and
- Water, habitat and sediment restoration, including the vitality of the Detroit and Rouge rivers.
The Clinic’s inaugural partnership is with Jefferson East Inc. (JEI), a multi-service neighborhood organization that serves low-income populations on Detroit's east side and five historic adjoining neighborhoods. JEI will complete a multi-disciplinary investigation of historical and recent flooding events that devastated the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood and adjacent communities. The project will identify short- and long-term efforts which JEI, along with its local, regional, and state partners, can implement to minimize flooding and create a safe and resilient community.
The SEAS Sustainability Clinic is part of an overarching statewide SEAS initiative. Slated to launch in the coming months, the statewide Michigan Sustainability Clinic will work across Michigan with the goal to support the vision that the Great Lakes State lead the nation in the implementation of 21st Century resilient infrastructures that address climate impact, racial inequity, unemployment and economic fallout from the global pandemic.