OOS 84-4
Green infrastructure in Detroit: Designing novel landscapes that reflect neighborhood values

Friday, August 14, 2015: 9:00 AM
315, Baltimore Convention Center
Joan Iverson Nassauer, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Khalil Ligon, Alliance For Great Lakes, Detroit, MI
Natalie Sampson, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Dearborn, MI

We report on cases in which we have designed green infrastructure (GI) that responds to social and environmental opportunities and challenges associated with widespread vacancy of residential property in Detroit.  While Detroit’s federally-ordered reduction of Combined Sewer Overflows to the Great Lakes drives the city’s adoption of GI, the city’s clay soils, flat terrain, low population density, and low land prices associated with vacancy affect the particular design of GI in our work.  But these characteristics are insufficient as determinants for land-based GI design.  Because land-based GI changes the appearance of neighborhoods and its longevity depends on acceptance by local people, neighborhood values and perceptions should influence the design of GI as a novel urban landscape element in any urban context.  In Detroit, where pervasive vacancy not only creates opportunities for land-based GI to be highly cost-efficient but also signals profound social and economic stress, the potential for novel landscape elements to improve the appearance of neighborhoods and be welcomed by community members is particularly relevant.


In each case from our work in Detroit, collaboration among many disciplines and agencies as well as our longstanding engagement with neighborhood community members has been essential to formulating design hypothesis about what works – to affect nutrient cycling and mitigate flooding but also to win community acceptance, initially and over time.  In addition to managing water quantity and quality, our designs aim to advance human health as well as perceptions of neighborhood desirability and safety.   For each of the GI projects, we report on the transdisciplinary process employed, our approach to understanding and employing community members’ knowledge and perceptions, and the related rationale for each GI design