Detroit Neighborhood Turns to Solar for Urban Renewal
By Bentham Paulos
What do you do when the population of your neighborhood drops 60 percent in 15 years? When over a quarter of the homes in your neighborhood are abandoned, burned out, or unlivable? When you are surrounded by vacant lots, filled with trash?
If you are Will Bright, David Cross and Darrell West, you go to work. They are founders of It Starts At Home, a community redevelopment group working on saving Detroit, starting with ZIP code 48204.
When they look at those vacant lots, they see an opportunity to create a more self-reliant and sustainable neighborhood using solar power.
An innovative project they have developed with Studio Ci, an urban design collaborative based in Detroit, has been selected to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar In Your Community Challenge, a $5 million contest "to support innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities."
About the Neighborhood
Located just northwest of downtown Detroit, ZIP code 48204 is bisected by Interstate 96, and home to sprawling junk yards and scrap metal operations. The population of the nearly all-black neighborhood has fallen from 42,316 in 2000 to only 25,096 in 2016, according to Census data. Currently 28 percent of homes are vacant, and many more have been torn down, leaving open land dotted throughout the neighborhood.
Their story is not unique in Detroit. As the local economy slowly rotted over the past 50 years, people moved out and home values dropped. The Detroit housing crisis hit rock bottom in the early 2010s, with the average sale price of homes in 2012 at $7,500 and more than half of property owners not paying property taxes.
In 2013, the city declared bankruptcy, the largest by a municipality in U.S. history.
As many as one in three homes in Detroit have been foreclosed and sold, some with the former owners still in the home, now forced to rent what used to be their own house. Many other homes were simply abandoned. The Detroit Land Bank Authority, a city agency sells abandoned homes, eBay-style, through online auctions. As of this writing, they list 12 properties in 48204, with bids starting at $1000, as is.
It Starts at Home
While speculators and absentee landlords are buying many foreclosed and abandoned homes, people in the neighborhoods have different plans.
Cross, Bright and West started the not-for-profit It Starts At Home when the vacant houses became a danger to the community.
"We had a couple kids that were raped," Cross recalls in a video profile of the group. "One of the reasons was that they had access to abandoned homes. One of the kids was our friend's daughter."
"So after that we needed to start securing the homes," he says. Bright recalls that the group began by boarding up four or five hundred homes, leading to a formal collaboration with Mayor Mike Duggan's office. The city has a board-up program that provides supplies, Cross says, but the group recruits volunteers to do the work.
"My goal is to get everyone back in Detroit," Cross says. "I love Detroit. I absolutely love Detroit. I'm a true advocate for the city. It's a lovely city, it just needs some tender care right now."
But boarding up vacant houses is only a temporary measure. The longer term goal is to make 48204 an attractive place to live, so the abandoned homes will attract new residents.
The key to the neighborhood, as Bright sees it, is the large number of vacant lots that now plague the neighborhood, like missing teeth. What some see as a problem, Bright sees as an opportunity.
Working with Constance Bodurow of Studio-Ci, they are working on a plan to use the vacant lots to host solar power, community gardens and public space that will revitalize the neighborhood, create local jobs and deliver sustainable self-reliance.
"Our goal was to leverage Detroit's vacancies as an asset," Bodurow says, using what she calls "generative infrastructure."
This includes Studio-Ci's unique design of solar panels mounted on a canopy that doubles as a rainwater collector, capturing water to irrigate community gardens. In its full concept, it is integrated with electric heat pumps that use the stable temperature of ground to supply highly efficient heating and cooling. Bodurow has applied for two patents on the design.
The pilot project in 42804, known as the Seebaldt Pilot since it is starting on Seebaldt Street, will start with four 25 kilowatt solar canopies, enough to power 25 nearby homes and cut electric bills by 70 percent.
"Solar canopies will keep money in the community so we will have more money to send kids to college and get better educated," Bright says.
Bright and Bodurow hope to have the solar pilot project up and running by November. They'll be tapping volunteers in the neighborhood to help a contractor with the construction.
Once tested and proven at the "one block" scale, the plan is to replicate the design across the entire 48204 district. Bodurow points out that one-third of the area is vacant, enough space to do six megawatts of solar, which could power all 11,000 households, not to mention provide stormwater management, rainwater collection and food production.
Eventually, Bright says, "we want to go across the world with it."
The idea has already received global recognition, winning a prestigious $100,000 design prize from the LafargeHolcim Foundation in Switzerland, beating out 5,000 applicants. The contest's jury "greatly appreciated the proposal's fundamentally optimistic approach," according to the foundation.
The winning team of the LafargeHolcim Awards for North America. Their project for bottom-up neighborhood planning in Detroit won the competition for sustainable design. LafargeHolcim Foundation
As part of DOE's Solar In Your Community Challenge, they will receive up to $60,000 in seed funds and upwards of $10,000 in technical assistance, plus a chance to win a $500,000 grand prize. "I'm confident we can win," Bright boasts. "I don't believe in coming in second."
The project will also have to resolve some policy issues. Delivering power from neighborhood generators is a new idea in Michigan and the local utility, DTE Energy, is not completely on board, Bright says. "Our approach is a few years ahead of them. But we have engaged with them and they understand what we are doing."
"We're at the start of a new era."
'Clean Energy Is a Fundamental Civil Right': Major Campaign to Expand Access to Solar https://t.co/9lOP46SIcy… https://t.co/Los45YAmo8— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516020014.0
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michael Svoboda
The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.
Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence
By Julia Conley
As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.
- Lemurs and Northern Right Whales Near Brink of Extinction ... ›
- Trump Administration Approves Harmful Seismic Blasting in Atlantic ... ›
By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
- Should I Exercise During the Coronavirus Pandemic? Experts ... ›
- If Meditation Is Not Your Thing, Try a Walk in the Woods - EcoWatch ›
In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
- Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their ... ›
- Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in ... ›
- Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights Advocates Rally for Wet'suwet'en ... ›
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 ... ›
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›
By Angela Nicoletti
The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.
- Global Frog Pandemic May Become Even Deadlier as Strains ... ›
- New Species of Diamond Frog Discovered in Remote Pocket of ... ›
- Frogs Are on the Verge of Mass Extinction, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›