Michigan Joins the Movement to Build Sustainable Communities

Courtney Overbey

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Around the world, communities are considering innovative ways of investing in sustainable developments that will require fewer resources, protect the environment and support a strong regional economy.

For years now, Michigan has been working toward revolutionizing the way it designs its urban centers, intentionally using what is referred to as “green infrastructure” to mitigate its impact on the community and environment, while still providing a boost to local economies.

The trend toward green infrastructure in economic development involves using vegetation, soils and other elements and practices to reinstate certain natural processes needed for projects to manage water and create healthier urban environments. This can include the use of rain gardens, permeable pavement, vegetated swales or green roofs in a project’s development.

Embracing the integration of these green practices not only provides obvious benefits for the environment, but for municipalities and developers as well. For example, “going green” in economic development activities allows cities to reduce municipal infrastructure and utility maintenance costs; meanwhile, developers can lower costs for storm water management and increase the marketability of their projects.

At the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), we commit ourselves to supporting transformative projects that will create vibrant, sustainable and resilient communities throughout Michigan. That is why our Community Development Team has begun placing an even greater emphasis on supporting projects that incorporate these types of thoughtful and sustainable practices.

In the city of Detroit — Michigan’s most densely populated urban area — Michigan has been spearheading the move toward green infrastructure, with the MEDC investing in these types of projects throughout the past decade. Most recently, we saw the fruits of this collective labor come together when El Moore’s community garden and green park officially opened to the public this summer.

The El Moore project converted the existing, historic El Moore building into a multi-use development including a community park, Eco Art space, urban sustainable food retail space, a demonstration and learning center, urban agriculture, apartments, hostel rooms and parking spaces with support of MEDC through a Brownfield Michigan Business Tax Credit. Beyond its exhaustive list of amenities, El Moore also takes pride in being an incredibly eco-friendly building, employing a variety of green infrastructure including sustainable systems for managing recycling, renewable energy, water usage and composting.

Down the road from El Moore is yet another green building made possible through strategic economic development assistance from the state. The MEDC supported the Green Garage project, which renovated a former Model T showroom into an innovative and sustainable office and design center. Today, the Green Garage serves as a co-working community and business incubator that offers space for a diverse group of nonprofits and business, proudly operating at nearly 10 percent of the waste, water and energy of a traditional office building. By way of its green infrastructure, Green Garage utilizes 90 percent natural daylighting, executed a zero-waste construction, has native Michigan plants in its landscaping and every day returns 100 percent of the rainwater it gathers into the area’s natural aquifers.

In 2014, Michigan developed the first-of-its-kind crowdfunding program, Public Spaces Community Places (PSCP), which is a combined effort between the MEDC, the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan-based Patronicity to strategically fund projects identified by local residents. Projects that are successfully funded through this grassroots effort are then backed with a matching grant from MEDC.

The very first PSCP project the MEDC supported was the Midtown Green Alley led by Midtown Detroit Inc., in the same neighborhood as both El Moore and the Green Garage. This 415-foot alley was transformed into a green space made up of permeable pavers, historic brick, LED and induction lighting, native landscaping and rain gardens. Using green infrastructure, the Green Alley also reduces the stormwater burden on the city of Detroit’s combined sewer system, proving to have plenty of utility in addition to being a more attractive space.

The MEDC is committed to strengthening Michigan’s economy and attracting new opportunities while remaining mindful of the need for Michigan to be a leader in sustainable economic development practices. This cluster of fully functional and thriving businesses and spaces utilizing green infrastructure highlight Michigan’s continued commitment to fostering vibrant communities where people can be proud to live, work and play.

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