Background Information

The Detroit team was borne out of the need for an equitable, accessible, and concerted effort to help Detroiters understand, manage, and prioritize green stormwater efforts in Detroit, as well as a need to create a strategy that engages the city and residents of all economic strata. Like many older American cities struggling with the effects of industrial decline, Detroit struggles with housing insecurity, neglected public transportation and water infrastructure, and high levels of blight and vacancy. Many of the most urgent resilience challenges faced by Detroiters center around water—a nexus issue that has implications for health, housing security, and quality of life. Aging municipal infrastructure has led to frequently flooded basements and sewage backups. Many of the city’s poorest residents struggle to pay their water bills each month, and in the past, the utility has shut off water service for those who have missed multiple payments. The City of Detroit has recently started levying stormwater drainage fees on water ratepayers to help cover the cost of managing runoff. These fees represent an additional burden for already cash-strapped households, but the city plans to offer credits against this fee if ratepayers implement green infrastructure solutions that manage stormwater.

Despite the city’s well-publicized challenges, it boasts a resilient and resourceful network of community organizations and engaged residents who are leading the way in grassroots, inclusive urban regeneration. Many of them are engaged in empowering residents to lead the way on green infrastructure solutions, including those that could help residents lower their stormwater fees while reducing runoff. This team’s goal is to coordinate those efforts and to engage more effectively with the city over water and sustainability policy.

Team Summary

This team, which represents multiple stakeholders in the green stormwater infrastructure and sustainability ecosystem in Detroit, is working to coordinate and advance their efforts, especially in light of Detroit’s recently established sustainability office.

Promising Practices

  • For years, the organizations within this group have served as de facto public service agents to provide neighborhood services, education, and stormwater management in Detroit’s most vulnerable areas.
  • The group leads a series of capacity building initiatives across the city, including leading classes, organizing trainings, and hosting summits with neighborhood leaders who then share information broadly within their neighborhoods.
  • The team has led a series of mini-grant programs to provide resources directly to residents and pair them with technical experts who help grantees execute and understand.
  • The team actively seeks to incorporate economic development and job creation into their resilience models, addressing the issues most urgent to Detroiters.
  • The group is dedicated to implementing neighborhood-scale green infrastructure strategies that engage the city’s most overlooked populations.

Key Challenges

  • Developing innovative funding models that are not reliant on philanthropy or crowdfunding, especially at the neighborhood scale.
  • Accessing vacant land on which to establish comprehensive systems.
  • Compartmentalization and isolation of sustainability efforts at the city-level, which makes innovation difficult.
  • Creating citywide strategies; only two-thirds of the 24 miles of vacant land in Detroit are developable.