The Detroit SUN Project: SUN = Sustainable Urban Neighborhood (2011)

Project Location : 
Detroit, MI
Summary of Project Idea: 

This project serves as a pilot project to be used as a model for other low-income urban areas. This project focuses on educating residents of a low-income urban community about urban environmental issues while promoting positive behavior changes. The purpose of this project is four-fold: 1) to identify environmental education knowledge gaps in a low-income area of Detroit, 2) to provide residents with local resources that promote positive behavioral changes in order to meet their environmental needs, 3) to increase awareness about resource use in order to conserve energy and reduce utility costs, and 4) to put residents in contact with services and programs that can help meet environmental needs. A series of workshops, led in partnership with several local organizations, were conducted in the focus neighborhood. A home was rented in the neighborhood to serve as a venue for the workshop series and as a demonstration house for home energy and water efficiency techniques. Surveys were administered to workshop participants in order to assess knowledge of selected environmental topics. The topics included recycling and illegal dumping, water use efficiency and responsibility, home weatherization, local food and human health concerns, and storm water management. An environmental education booklet was created based on workshop content and distributed to community residents in order to promote the concept of sustainability and serve as a lasting resource within the neighborhood. Our project history, the planning process and implementation of the workshop series, and interacting with residents of our target area inform our recommendations for future urban environmental education programs and policies directed at urban sustainability in low-income areas.

Skills/Expertise Needed: 
  • Environmental education approach to assist in gaining community support through education and enhancing appreciation
  • Education and behavior student to design plans to share project with the surrounding community and region
  • Landscape architect with a particular focus on sustainable landscapes with native plants
  • Experience with storm water collection and/or implementation of permeable surfaces
  • Sustainable systems incorporation into community and individual residences
  • Environmental planner with potential work on land use issues in the urban area
  • Potential to develop policy changes with city officials in regards to land use and energy standards
SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Sustainable Systems
Professional Career Development Benefits: 
  • Interaction with state and local government especially city planning commission and the planning and development department, politicians, political figures, influential non-profit organizations, and socially responsible private companies in the city of Detroit.
  • The project will provide the opportunity to gain knowledge of available technology and implementation i.e. geothermal technology, solar thermal, photovoltaic. Learn about these technologies, their value and feasibility, and their benefits from a community perspective, in a context whereby financial savings leveraged for low, moderate and middle-income persons has the immediate potential to directly improve the quality of life. Cost-benefit analysis skills development of potential project variables, as well as replicability in other areas, as well as other similar markets.
  • Freedom to work independently in the research and planning phase. Great amount of flexibility based on the interests, energies, and talents of those involved. This is an excellent opportunity to see positive change first hand, interact with an urban community as well as city leaders, and find creative solutions to environmental and community issues.
  • Gain experience with budgets, grants, and allocation of fiscal resources. Garner excellent communication, long-term planning, and short term implementation skills. Learn about current urban issues facing environmentalists, and current environmental issues facing urbanites, and potential local, state and federal funding sources to implement activities.
  • Experience with community organizing - through garnering support, leading volunteers, and implementing understanding and education. Strengthen public communication and ability to work with a variety of ideas, interests, and individuals.
Funding Sources: 

Leverage Point Ã¢â‚¬â€œ ($2500 for student expenses, confirmed)

ShoreBank Enterprise Detroit will build upon the work from the Master's project to raise $5M for the implementation of the Eco Block Project.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

By working with local residents and other community groups in the city, the student team will develop a plan for the Green Block that includes:

  • Waste reduction and accompanying education.
  • Implement a new waste management system including recycling and composting and an analysis of the corresponding education. Will be able to estimate the annual decrease in waste sent to the incinerator.
  • Design of a more sustainable landscape, one that no longer needs constant maintenance.
  • Transformation of vacant lots into sustainable landscaping, gardens, and green spaces.
  • Acquire native plants and design an "open space utilization" model that could be replicated in other open areas of the city.
  • May also be an opportunity to develop and implement an urban garden plan.
  • Plan and implement weatherization and energy reducing applications, and perhaps alternative energy technology such as solar panels.
  • Quantify a reduction in the energy costs and overall energy consumption of the residents.
  • Testing and potential removal of environmental toxins. Ability to gain knowledge on the pollutant contamination of the residential buildings and of the soil.
  • Development and implementation of an educational approach for media and visitors so that the Eco-Block can become a place of learning to support tourists, students, city leaders, and other interested groups.

The physical changes will improve the community, while the educational component will have a lasting impact on the residents within the area, the surrounding neighborhoods, the visitors, students engaged in the project, and the city of Detroit as whole. The Eco-Block will be a critical step forward for the City of Detroit in the wake of substantial urban decline. It is also a key step in the City for movement in the actualization of the green initiative put forth by the state of Michigan.

State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Kerry Duggan
Contact Phone: 
(313) 806-3311
Contact e-mail: 
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Karyn Boldys, MUP/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Lauren Cooper, MS Environmental Policy
  • Michela Gentile, MS Sustainable Systems
  • Melinda Morang, MUP/MS Sustainable Systems
  • Elizabeth Senecal, MS Sustainable Systems
Project Status: 
Past Project