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USGBC+: Detroit is dying, Detroit is rising

Published on Posted in Community

USGBC+, the new membership magazine of the U.S. Green Building Council, explores the life and work of the people who design and craft intelligent, high-performance buildings and spaces, bringing to light the creativity and passion behind every green building project.  

Our first issue features a close-up look at sustainable development in Detroit. Read the full article at plus.usgbc.org.

As Detroit rebounds from its lowest lows, some see the opportunity to make sustainable building practices key to the city’s rebuilding efforts. But can a place built on the back of the internal combustion engine really become a hotbed of green development?

With 139 square miles of land and a population of around 700,000 people (down drastically from its peak of nearly 2 million in 1950, but still enough to keep the city ranked ahead of Boston, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.), Detroit is large enough to accommodate whatever story angle outside observers are interested in mapping onto it. A photographer sent to snap pictures of blight will see nothing but abandoned buildings. A reporter sent to cover urban agriculture will see nothing but community gardens and farmers’ markets. 

And so, when people start whispering in your ear about how Detroit is poised to become a model city for sustainable development, it’s easy to be a little skeptical at first—to think that maybe this is just another angle. Detroit is, after all, a city with ample surface parking downtown but meager mass transit options; a city that still, in 2014, doesn’t have curbside recycling for all of its residents; a city that greets visitors on their drive into town with a giant Uniroyal tire by the side of the freeway, backgrounded by smokestacks belching into the sky. 

But Detroit is also a place where open space is plentiful and land is cheap; a place where a scarcity of resources makes the idea of reusing materials and saving on energy costs particularly attractive; and a place where residents—who’ve spent years reading about how the decline of the auto industry sealed their own doom as well—are eager to prove that there’s life in Detroit after the assembly line.

“I think it’s real,” says Jeff Gaines, chairman of the board of directors for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Detroit Regional Chapter, of Detroit’s projected green boom. “I think what you’re seeing is that the younger folks are demanding it and some of the more savvy folks are seeing the benefits. To me, sustainable development is really smart development. If we are going to try and get the city back on its feet, I think we want to do it in an intelligent way. We’re talking about doing things in a much more lean manner and on a much smaller scale than we’ve done them before.”

Read the full article at plus.usgbc.org

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