By: Amy Grodin - Environmental Analyst at D3
In the spring of 2010, Data Driven Detroit (D3) and the Graham Institute for Sustainability at the University of Michigan forged a relationship with the Detroit community in order to invest in the environmental health of the city. The Graham Institute is currently providing $250,000 to fund six major projects, on which D3 is the data partner. The projects were first assessed by Dr. John Callaweart and Katie Lund from the Graham Institute, staff from D3, and community-based advocates and experts. Both D3 and the Graham Institute focused on the community’s interest during the selection process to ensure that the projects chosen would include the best indicators for Detroit and support the long term goal of creating an accurate sustainability index for the city. Don Scavia, Graham Family Professor and Director of the Graham Institute, explained it this way: “This project provides an exceptional opportunity to apply University resources to the broad agenda of sustainable redevelopment in Detroit. University of Michigan Faculty project leads have a deep commitment to Detroit and I believe there will be significant interest in this project.”
The projects, which began work in May 2011, include topics surround water quality and storm water maintenance, temporal mapping of air quality, federal investment in Detroit, commitment to place through acquisition and care for vacant properties/the natural environment. All of these projects will feed into the larger project which is the development of a sustainability index specific to the City of Detroit.
A sustainability index measures social equity, environmental, and economic indicators for a particular area so that policy makers can determine where resources need to be allocated to create a well-rounded quality of life for all. Communities who strive for a healthy economy and a healthy environment for all their citizens would benefit from a sustainability index, as it will assist them in making important decisions.
The Siemens Corporation published a sustainability index model this year, which included the entire Detroit metro area. In it a total of 27 metro areas in the United States and Canada were factored into its sustainability index. The model used thirty-one indicators; approximately sixteen indicators were quantitative in nature and fifteen were qualitative. The indicators were placed into the following categories: CO2 Emissions, Energy, Land Use, Buildings, Transport, Water, Waste, Air, and Environmental Governance. The outcome of the study showed that San Francisco ranked most sustainable overall and Detroit was ranked the least sustainable.
The Siemens rankings identified challenges facing Detroit’s sustainability in each of the areas it examined. Detroit’s high levels of CO2 emissions were attributed to its heavy industrial base and its proximity to the nation’s second-largest coal plant. Detroit has high energy usage relative to both its population and its GDP. Detroit’s land use was identified as suboptimal because of its low population density, urban sprawl, and limited green space. (See below for more about measuring Detroit’s green space.) Siemens found very few LEED-certified buildings per capita in the area. The extent of Detroit’s public transportation network was rated as above average, but the area has fewer than average commutes completed by walking or biking. Detroit’s water system has higher than average consumption and leakage, and limited wastewater treatment. Detroit’s waste management was found to feature near-zero recycling (though the report acknowledges that recycling has expanded since the data was gathered in 2006). Detroit’s air has lower than average particulate emissions but high levels of nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide emission, likely part of Detroit’s legacy as an automobile- and industry-intensive metropolis. Detroit’s environmental governance is limited by its lack of environmental strategy, environmental targets, and regular environmental reporting.
The city of Detroit, in particular, stands to benefit from the creation of an index designed specifically for its unique situation. The city needs an index that does not include the entire metro area. Models such as the Siemens index are useful for evaluating the entire region, but tend not to capture variables that are unique to Detroit, such as a declining population. In addition, the Graham Institute initiative is an important opportunity to improve collaboration between community organizations and academic institutions. “What excites me about the Graham Institute’s collaboration with Data Driven Detroit is that solid information will be made available to everyone around the region,” explains John Callaweart, the Integrated Assessment Director at the Graham Institute. A major priority for both the D3 and the Graham Institute is to make useful data publicly accessible while creating lasting community partnerships.