Time for Meaningful Change
Picture Detroit in the early 2000s. A city faced with many environmental problems—toxic air, polluted water, contaminated land, a trash incinerator surrounded by neighborhoods, constant truck traffic, heavy industry, flooding, residents in poor health, a declining population, thousands upon thousands of abandoned homes, buildings, and parcels of land, and more. And yet Detroit city government had no plan to address these issues.
In 2011, an environmental summit was held by the City of Detroit. It was attended by Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and a number of environmental groups, as well as members of the public. Residents and advocates shared concerns about the environment with city officials. This could have been just another meeting where people raise awareness or make statements, but that rarely causes change to happen, so we took action. Based on feedback from the summit, we urged the 10 local nonprofit organizations who were in attendance to join with us and commit to environmental justice. Through our collective efforts, we committed to giving the people of Detroit a say in the future of their city. Those groups, along with DWEJ, composed the original membership of what would be called the Detroit Environmental Agenda.
The Detroit Environmental Agenda was built upon five core principles:
- Ensure environmental justice: protect and involve vulnerable populations in decisions that impact their lives
- Protect and restore Earth’s resources: land, water and air
- Engage affected residents to understand community needs and potential impacts
- Leverage the connections between environmental solutions and health, safety, jobs, and education
- Build on successful models in Detroit and from elsewhere
Detroit’s First Grassroots-led Sustainability Plan
From the start, the members of the collaboration combined forces to conduct research and talk to people all across the city. We surveyed nearly 500 residents and created something badly needed —a comprehensive report prepared from the ground up, describing the state of the environment in Detroit’s neighborhoods AND providing solutions to go along with these findings. This report was called the Detroit Environmental Agenda and was published in July of 2013. The report also provided a framework for residents to contribute to and expand upon the many ongoing improvement efforts throughout Detroit.
Educating Candidates and the Public on Environmental Justice Issues
Following the 2013 report, the Detroit Environmental Agenda published its first Voter Guide to inform Detroiters of candidates’ positions on environmental issues. Another guide was published for the 2017 elections. In 2016, the Detroit Environmental Agenda released a Sustainable Development Checklist to track environmental criteria for real estate development.
In addition to the report, citizen guides and checklists, the Detroit Environmental Agenda developed three environmental policies and plans in 2017-2018 to present to the City of Detroit and regional partners:
- The Detroit Climate Resilience Ordinance, designed to help city leaders in Detroit reduce the negative effects of climate change, and make the city more efficient and resilient. The Ordinance included four key points: reduce greenhouse gas emissions; create the Detroit Climate Plan; develop a monitoring and reporting program; and create an environmental justice advisory committee. A good amount of this proposed ordinance was successfully included in the Detroit Climate Action Plan.
- The Detroit Water Agenda, a framework that seeks to protect and manage precious water resources at city, corporate and community levels. It is a City-led commitment to water conservation, water efficiency, and stormwater management. The Agenda contains several key points for implementation: reduce negative impacts; encourage sustainable development practices; ensure accessibility; inform and guide consumers; and provide recommendations for water. As with the Climate Resilience Ordinance, much of the Water Agenda was successfully incorporated into the Detroit Climate Action Plan.
- Community Action to Promote Health Environments Public Health Action (CA-PHE), a community-based, participatory research partnership between the University of Michigan School of Public Health and organizations from the health and environmental communities. Learn more.
The Detroit Environmental Agenda was a first of its kind in Detroit —a grassroots-led sustainability effort. Over the years, it has grown significantly, now hosting 20+ local organizations, and remains active and influential. The ideas and actions created by those involved, built from direct resident input, were instrumental in building the momentum to get the City of Detroit to endorse and create the Office of Sustainability. The Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda was also made possible in part by the publication of the Detroit Environmental Agenda.