Go blue, go green

Since November, our series "Freshwater Metropolis" has examined Metro Detroit's unique position in the heart of the Great Lakes basin and how our actions and implementation of green infrastructure--from what we do in our backyards to how we act collectively in the regional big picture--affect the world's greatest freshwater resource.

On May 23, our series culminated in a speaker series event at Lawrence Technological University that featured a panel of experts, business people, and activists who discussed the need for Southeast Michigan to embrace its identity as a Great Lakes metropolis and become a leader in green infrastructure implementation.

Don Carpenter, a leading expert on stormwater management and an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Lawrence Technological University, our partner in this series, moderated the panel discussion between Edward Lynch of Hamilton Anderson Associates, a Detroit architecture and urban planning firm that was instrumental in the creation of the Detroit Future City framework; Nina Ignaczak of the Clinton River Watershed Council; Amy Mangus, director of planning implementation for water quality, stormwater, and green infrastructure at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments; Gerard Santoro, program manager of land and water resources at Macomb County's Planning and Economic Development Department; Khalil Ligon, project manager of the Lower Eastside Action Plan in Detroit; and Jeff Klein of Classic Landscape and Detroit Farm and Garden.

Lawrence Tech proved a fitting location for the event. Carpenter has helped the university introduce green infrastructure and stormwater management techniques to campus. These include the orchestration of controlled burns along the banks of the portions of the Rouge River that run through campus. Controlled burns help eliminate invasive species and add to the resilience of native plants that help filter stormwater entering the stream. With funding from the Erb Foundation, another partner in this series, Carpenter and Lawrence Tech recently unveiled a stormwater management trail that contains signs showing various tools and techniques in place on campus that aid in the management of stormwater and help keep natural bodies of water clean.

Early in this series, we examined how the Detroit Future City strategic framework details various opportunities to use Detroit's vacant lands as landscape infrastructure that can help relieve burdens that stormwater places on Detroit's combined sewer system. Panelist Amy Mangus of SEMCOG, the regional planning authority of Southeast Michigan, pointed out that her organization is nearing the publication of a regional Green Infrastructure Vision, which will give local communities the tools they need to implement green infrastructure in their jurisdictions.

Panelist Khalil Ligon, who recently announced her candidacy for Detroit City Council District 4, talked about the opportunities that green infrastructure presented to residents of Detroit's lower eastside from a neighborhood stabilization perspective. In the drafting and implementation of the Lower Eastside Action Plan, residents saw green infrastructure as a means to productively use vacant land, which abounds in that area, and aestheticize what in other contexts would be considered blight. LEAP identified 4,800 lots and parcels in the area with potential to serve as green infrastructure sites.

One of the most positive aspects of Detroit's land use issues and the abundance of vacant parcels in the city is the potential to transform vacant land into green infrastructure sites. "We have an opportunity (through green infrastructure) to transform the city's image," said panelist Edward Lynch. "The amount of publicly owned vacant land in Detroit makes this possible."

Gerry Santoro of Macomb County echoed these sentiments, albeit from a suburban perspective. "In Southeast Michigan, we take our fresh water for granted," he said. "We (in Macomb County) believe there is a triple bottom line to everything we are doing: environmental stewardship will lead to economic development, which will lead to quality of life." Projects his organization are undertaking, like the greening of a 440 acre parking lot at Lake St. Clair Metro Park (formerly Metro Beach), are exemplary of this thinking. This will be one of the largest examples of this kind of project anywhere in the Midwest, and will make Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes basin cleaner by integrating stormwater management infrastructure into something as seemingly mundane as a giant parking lot.

The panel addressed questions from the audience, which included concerns like one from a man whose property sits along the banks of the Clinton River in Pontiac. Earlier in our series, we produced a video for Metromode that explored the potential of daylighting the portion of the Clinton River in downtown Pontiac that was buried in the 1960s.

The audience member suggested he would like to see other portions of the river cleaned of debris before that happens. He claimed that the river is in the worst shape it has been in during his lifetime. Panelist Nina Ignazcak suggested that simply cleaning the debris is a very short term solution, but that the real issue is the amount of impervious surfaces in the region, which produce excessive amounts of stormwater runoff that carry debris into the river. The only solution for the long term is green infrastructure development.

Panelist Jeff Klein, whose work in landscape architecture and business Detroit Farm and Garden were featured in a recent article for Model D, put everything into perspective. "What we do in our backyards creates the big picture and vice versa. We all need to be working together and start caring for the complete water system and address how dynamic Michigan really is."

Matthew Lewis is project editor for Model D and Metromode's blue/green infrastructure series, underwritten by the Erb Family Foundation

Field photos by Doug Coombe

Panel photo by Walter Wasacz

Read more articles by Matthew Lewis.

Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative. 
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