In 2008, DWEJ and the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum partnered to develop plans for a building that would embody our sustainability ideals – the Detroit Sustainability Center (DSC). The DSC came from our trail-blazing Build Up Detroit program and was created to be a model community-driven green development that symbolized Detroit’s commitment to a green and socially just future, and serve as a community and professional resource hub for sustainability.

DSC Green cafe – photo by inFORM studio, Conservation Design Forum, and URS Corporation

Our Vision for the Detroit Sustainability Center

  1. Increase public and private collaboration to bring a comprehensive and efficient approach to promote greener, healthier buildings and communities.
  2. Enhance quality of life for the residents and workers in Detroit and surrounding communities.
  3. Expand the image of Detroit as a model of an equitable, sustainable green economy.
  4. Establish credible green policies and programs across the city and region through innovative public-private collaboration.

The idea behind the DSC was to create a centrally located model of an ecologically sustainable building. It would be the catalyst for promoting Detroit’s revitalization by providing a new model for urban redevelopment. The DSC would provide space for civic engagement, job training, green business incubation, green construction, and policy innovation initiatives. 

The Detroit Sustainability Center would provide:

  • State-certified job training in emerging green industries and brownfield remediation for displaced, unemployed, and underemployed workers
  • Resources for developers regarding green building techniques and financing tools for sustainable development
    •  A center for organizing and youth leadership in environmental stewardship
    • A green cafe serving locally grown food
  • A coordinating center for policy around sustainability issues
  • An incubator for startup businesses pursuing environmentally sustainable practices
  • Technical assistance to businesses to reduce their carbon footprint by incorporating pollution prevention mechanisms and/or employing best practices
    •  A sustainable solutions lab for public education, hands-on training and demonstrations
    • A Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum destination site with public access that would model Detroit’s unique opportunities for sustainable retrofitting of historic structures.

A Collaborative Effort 

Designing the DSC would not have been possible without the help and support of four gifted graduate students from the University of Michigan: Alycia Hillman, Sheila Somashekhar, Carmen Violich, and Natalie Zappella. Their project Catalyzing a Sustainable Detroit: A Community-Directed Strategic Plan was completed in collaboration with DWEJ, the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, and an array of Detroit stakeholders, such as documentary-maker Bill Kubota, and businesses and organizations working on sustainable development. 

The purpose of the project was to, in the authors’ words, “represent the ways in which the tenets of sustainability could improve the lives of all people living and working in Detroit” and “to create a strategic plan for a sustainability resource and community activity center tailored to the unique conditions in the city of Detroit”. Without the help of these students, we would not have been able to plan our vision in such a meaningful way. We are extremely thankful for their help. 

inFORM studio, Conservation Design Forum, along with URS Corporation were wonderful partners throughout the process as well. They helped us with the creation of our 2010  Detroit Sustainability Center: Schematic Design Package.

Despite our plans, the Detroit Sustainability Center has yet to become a reality. However, it serves as a great example of our history as innovators, a trait that lives on to this day as we continue on a journey of transformation. It also remains on our “to-do” list. DWEJ would love to see this project or one like it become a reality one day. Would you? We cannot do it without your support.

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