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
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
- 14 States On Track to Meet Paris Targets - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Names John Kerry as First-Ever Climate Envoy - EcoWatch ›
By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Pebble Mine Threatens One of the Last Great Salmon Rivers ... ›
- The Pebble Mine Is Too Toxic Even for the Trump Administration ... ›
- Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Pebble Mine ... ›
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.