October 2016 E-Newsletter: Empowering Detroiters through Neighborhood Revitalization Resources

The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office is dedicated to developing innovative, forward-thinking strategies, tools and resources that empower Detroiters’ abilities to revitalize their neighborhoods. Our aim is to steward the DFC Strategic Framework’s recommendations through equitable neighborhood planning that celebrates communities’ distinct characteristics and offers assistance to Detroit residents who are interested in improving quality of life in their neighborhoods.

Below are two signature programs that demonstrate how collaborative implementation of the DFC Strategic Framework has resulted in equitable tools for Detroiters.


In the Media

Detroit engages with its community to solve its raw sewage and storm water problem using the Strategic Framework

Article Summary
The City of Detroit has a combined sewage and rainwater sewer system that becomes overwhelmed by heavy downpours. Water is flushed into the same pipes that lead to the city’s sewage treatment plant during rainstorms. The DFC Strategic Framework recommends changing the way the city thinks about infrastructure by encouraging Detroiters to use landscapes as infrastructure.

The City of Detroit is solving one of its major problems with the help of one of its other problems. Detroit is experiencing combined sewer overflow, a messy, and often downright dangerous event that happens every time it rains too much. But by leveraging the abundant city-owned vacant land, Detroit may have found a way to alleviate at least some of the overflow.

Detroit, like many cities its size, has a combined sewage and rainwater sewer system. This means that when it rains, water is flushed into the same pipes that lead to the city’s sewage treatment plant. But when it rains too much, this system can be overwhelmed, leading to massive discharges of untreated sewage into the waterways around the city. These sewer overflows are one of the largest polluters of the Great Lakes and also often flood residents’ basements with sewage. The raw sewage, filled with bacteria, chemicals, and prescription drug waste, is also causing dangerous algae blooms in Lake Erie.

In cities like Chicago and Milwaukee, which have partial or fully combined sewer systems, there are epic underground caverns and reservoirs to tackle the overflows. And though this is not foolproof, it is not even an option at all for Detroit: The economically struggling city does not have the means to construct multi-billion dollar tunnels nor the time needed to dig one of these systems—Chicago’s deep tunnel has been under construction since 1975.

So Detroit is turning to a more grassroots approach. One of the major issues of rainwater in any city is that so much of the ground is impermeable, forcing the water into drains instead of just soaking into the earth. As the City of Detroit controls nearly half of the land within the city limits, it has decided to actively ensure this land is permeable. Aside from simply breaking up many square miles of surface pavement, the city is working with communities to build bioswales, rain gardens, and marshlands. 

Joan Nassauer, a landscape architect and University of Michigan professor, has already implemented a set of aggressive water retention prototypes. Working with a team of university researchers, she devised a system that is now in a pilot phase. After the Detroit Land Bank demolishes homes, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department excavates the large holes formerly occupied by the houses’ basements, fills them with sand and stones, and tops them with hardy, short plants. Each resulting bioretention garden collects stormwater from the street, stopping it from entering the overburdened drains. 

For Nassauer, the gardens presented quite a design challenge: Her experiences taught her that green infrastructure in financially-stressed neighborhoods is successful and accepted by the community when it looks well-kept. So the gardens had to be low maintenance without looking wild. Moreover, an overgrown garden might create visibility and safety concerns. The plant varities Nassauer selected—such as St. John’s wort, bergamot, coneflower, yarrow—are all showy but short: They remain visually appealing without growing too tall and requiring attention. Four test sites were built in Detroit’s Warrendale neighborhood; each can hold over 300,000 gallons of storm water per year. 

In legacy cities like Detroit, Nassauer said, there’s simultaneously an “opportunity to design super-efficient green infrastructure and immediately make people’s neighborhoods better places….” But much hinges on political will: In Detroit, Nassauer’s challenge to coordinate among institutions was greatly aided the mayor’s office and political climate. “There are political forces and a lot of citizen energy [going] toward taking Detroit to a new level of desirability for a place to live and work,” she said.

Along with Nassauer’s prototypes, the city’s flood mitigation plan is heavily based on the 2012 report Detroit Future City. Among other things, the report recommended changing the way the city thinks about infrastructure. Rather than focusing on hard infrastructure—roads, sewers, bridges—the report encouraged “landscapes as infrastructure.” The benefits of the plan are varied, but one of the main advantages is the community-based nature of improvements. Not only can the public see the improvements, but they are able to enact their own changes within the system. Multiple nonprofits have taught residents how to construct rain gardens, while other groups already working in vacant lots to cultivate land for food production. More formal projects by the city include permeable sidewalks and streets, improvements that can be made when streets are already in need of repair.

Click here to read the full article in The Architects Newspaper.

In the Media

Detroit Future City, Michigan Community Resources mini grants spur green infrastructure projects

Article Summary
The Detroit Future City Implementation Office is working to stimulate the creation of green infrastructure projects in Detroit neighborhoods through a second-year round of Working with Lots mini-grants. The Working with Lots mini-grant program offers up to $65,000 in funds to ten neighborhood groups to revitalize vacant lots. Groups must use lot designs in the Field Guide to Working with Lots, an award-winning DFC tool, to implement their plans.

Two organizations are supporting implementation of green infrastructure in Detroit neighborhoods through competitive mini-grant programs.

Michigan Community Resources (MCR) in partnership with ULI Michigan recently announced the following five awards to community groups to implement green infrastructure:

  • The Jefferson Chalmers Community Food System to build a water catchment system to irrigate their cut flower farm.
  • Urban Neighborhood Initiatives to create a water catchment system on a commercial building
  • Earthworks Urban Farm for research and development of an affordable, modular solar pump that will allow for the captured water to be used for irrigation in urban agricultural systems.
  • North Corktown Neighborhood Association to build a four-season rain garden on a vacant lot.
  • Marygrove Community Association to create a community rain garden with park-like amenities on a residential lot.

Each recipient will receive $5,000 in cash from MCR for materials and construction and an additional $2,000 in cash from ULI for signage, education, and maintenance. ULI will also provide pro bono technical assistance from their network of civil engineers and landscape architects.

According to CEO Jill Ferrari, this program represents a shift in its service strategy and focus.

“MCR envisions a more comprehensive approach to neighborhood revitalization in the City of Detroit,” says Ferrari. “To meet this challenge, we are focusing on more targeted technical assistance that includes support for sustainable community initiatives. We want to empower groups to design and implement projects that have environmental, social and financial sustainability so that their work in the community is more impactful.”

Funding for the MCR mini-grants is provided through a grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

Detroit Future City is also working to stimulate green infrastructure implementation in neighborhoods through a second-year round of competitive mini-grants to support neighborhood transformation of vacant lots into green infrastructure assets.

The program is offering $65,000 in funds to up to ten neighborhood groups to utilize its DFC Field Guide to Working with Lots (available online at dfc-lots.com). Each group will receive a maximum of $5,000 to be used toward lot design and implementation. An additional maximum of $1,500 must be dedicated toward the maintenance of the lot, programming and education. The program is funded by the Kresge Foundation.

Click here to read the full article in Model D.


Field Guide to Working with Lots Mini-Grant FAQs

The following questions were asked by participants at the two Working with Lots Info Sessions. If you need further clarification, please reach out to jlewis@detroitfuturecity.com or attend the three upcoming info sessions

What Date Location Time
Office Hours #1 Friday November 4, 2016 Grand River Work Place 19120 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48223 10:00am-1:00pm
Office Hours #2 Friday November 11, 2016 MASH Detroit 14711 Mack Ave., Suite B Detroit MI 48214 10:00am-1:00pm
Office Hours #3 Thursday November 17, 2016 DFC Implementation Office 2990 W. Grand Blvd., Suite #2 48215 5:00pm-8:00pm
APPLICATION DUE December 5, 2016 Submittable website, mail, or delivered to DFC Noon

Is the PowerPoint presentation from past informational sessions online?
Yes, the presentation is available online at: https://detroitfuturecity.com/tools/a-field-guide/

How many grants will be awarded this year?
Ten grants of up to $6,500 will be awarded this year. Up to $5,000 is dedicated to the lot design implementation and $1,500 is earmarked for the maintenance of the lot, programming, and educational materials expenses.

What should you do if the lot that you want to get permission to use has several owners?
You will be responsible for asking each owner to state in writing that you have permission to implement the lot design on that property.

Is there any coordination with Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) for decreased sewage costs?
We are currently working to see how we can align the Field Guide to Working with Lots with the guidelines for the Drainage Credits Program that is under development. However, there are currently several designs that would address stormwater management issues. The Field Guide would be a place to start if you are a church, business, resident or non-profit that are currently, or anticipate being assessed drainage fees. DFC can help connect you to DWSD with further questions.

Will decommissioned alleys present problems when attempting to determine the property lines for these vacant lots?
DFC and Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) will provide technical assistance to ensure that residents are working within the City’s zoning and regulatory guidelines.

If the focal point of your lot design isn’t based on the Field Guide designs, can you retool the design to fit the guidelines?
Yes, you can incorporate the Field Guide designs to complement something existing, different or original planned for your lot. Technical assistance can help you think how they work together within your space.

What if you have multiple lots and they will have a kid’s play scape on them, for example, how would you incorporate the Field Guide designs?
You would choose your lot design accordingly. For instance, you wouldn’t put a play scape in the middle of a wildflower field.  This can be discussed further during office hours with KGD.

If you have multiple lots, can you get a grant for each lot?
No, you would only be eligible for one grant, which you could use on multiple lots if it is appropriate for the design you choose and the budget allows.

What’s the best way to water your lot?
KGD will be doing trainings for grantees on how to water and maintain their lot designs. DFC is also working with KGD to address legal and safe water access options. As part of the trainings we will address these issues and discuss best practices for water conservation. Be mindful of your water situation as you are thinking about which lot design(s) to choose for the grant.
How can you be eligible for the grant if you don’t belong to a block club/association?
Talk to your District Manager about connecting with existing community groups in your area.  If your group doesn’t have an official status, you can provide documentation that shows you are an active group. Accepted documents include: a list of events, sign-in sheets, minutes, and a list of your board members.

Are there any permits required for this project?
Permitting is on a case-by-case basis. If you choose to crowd raise through ioby it’s possible that you could need a permit to implement that plan. Implementation of the Field Guide designs does not currently require a permit, but if any questions arise we will work through the technical assistance process to make sure the implementation is in alignment with City codes and policies.

What happens if you want to repurpose the lot after five years?
There are no rules regarding the exact longevity of the project, however, a preference will be given to projects that are intended to be long lasting or permanent.

What happens if you already have materials, and can your project be funded by other sources in addition to the DFC grant?
The application asks that you describe anything that is already in place (such as additional funding already secured, prep work completed, volunteers, and other elements) which helps demonstrate your group’s readiness. Additional funding can be utilized to make the scale of the lot design larger, or implement the overall vision of the lot.

Will the city continue to maintain the lots once we have acquired the lots or gotten permission to utilize them?
No, once you have purchased the lots or received permission to use them, you assume full responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of the property.

If you own a group home, are you eligible to receive credits if you already have irrigation and storm water management systems in place?
DWSD would have to evaluate the systems and determine what credits would be allowed.

What does the $5000 for design implementation cover?  
Each design has a shopping list that breaks down necessary materials needed for a successful installation. Additional eligible costs include: rental costs for tools, hiring a contractor, stipends for volunteers or basic logistical materials for volunteer days (water, snacks, gloves, etc.)

Does the grant cover the cost for tree removal for example?
The grant does not cover large site preparation costs like the demolition of a structure or removal of trees. However, basic site preparation like soil testing, grass removal, or tools for cleaning up debris, would be permitted.

How much does it cost to purchase a lot for this project?
Contact Darryl Earl at DLBA, dearl@detroitlandbank.org,  to determine the availability and cost of the lot you wish to acquire.

At what point does the electorate get a chance to have a voice in the decision-making process with regards to land acquisition?
DLBA is just a holder of land and must follow directives from the City, while at the same time attempting to be fair and equitable.  For the purposes of the mini-grant, if you do not want to own the land, a leasing program that is currently under development could be an option. Please contact dearl@detroitlandbank.org, or attend office hours for more information.

Is the application available electronically?
Yes, you would go to the DFC website https://detroitfuturecity.com/tools/a-field-guide/ and there is a link to the online app via the online program called Submittable, or you can download the PDF and submit a hardcopy.

Can you save the application and return to it later in Submittable, the software that assists applicants with their submissions?
Yes. First, you create an account with Submittable and then save the document while editing and return to it anytime. You will only submit it once you have completed the application in its entirety. You can also upload your supporting files to Submittable and safely return to the application later.

Is the format on Submittable different from the hardcopy?
Yes, while the applications may look different (Submittable just includes the text, not the graphics) the content is the same.