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Detroit Sustainable Urban Neighborhood (SUN) Project

By Karen Boldys, Lauren Cooper, Michela Gentile, Melinda Morang and Elizabeth Senecal


The Detroit Sustainable Urban Neighborhood Project (SUN) proposes sustainability education as the new strategy for urban revitalization in edge communities. This paper describes the planning, implementation, and outcomes of this project. For purposes of this project, the project team defines a sustainable urban neighborhood as one that respects the environment, is economically viable, and fosters a sense of community among its residents. During the summer of 2010, the project team organized a series of environmental education workshops in a low-income community in Detroit, Michigan. The project objectives were: 1) to identify environmental needs and knowledge gaps in a target area, 2) to provide residents with informational resources and knowledge in order to meet environmental needs, 3) to increase awareness of resource use to reduce utility costs, and 4) to connect residents with local services and programs that can help residents??? meet their environmental needs. This project???s educational program directly benefited the families in the project???s target area by increasing awareness of energy and water efficiency strategies and access to environmental education. The key components of this program were: an environmental education workshop series targeting urban environmental issues, a rental property used as a demonstration house, surveys aimed at assessing environmental knowledge level in the community, partnership building with local organizations, materials provision (principally home weatherization kits and rain barrels), community outreach, and an educational resource summarizing information from the workshops. The project team successfully met their objectives by providing direct communication links between city officials, local environmental organizations, and members of the community, while offering materials discussed during workshops to promote resource use awareness. This success is supported by positive feedback from the workshop presenters regarding the program and Demonstration House. The Demonstration House served as a successful workshop venue by providing a familiar and conveniently located setting, while functioning as a practical learning tool for teaching home energy and water efficiency techniques. Challenges the project team faced included time and budget constraints and lack of existing connections with the local community. In total, approximately 54 people attended at least one SUN Project event at the Demonstration House. Eight speakers from seven local organizations presented on a range of urban environmental topics and offered numerous giveaways targeted at promoting sustainable energy and water conservation behaviors. Although statistically significant conclusions cannot be drawn from surveys due to the low number of respondents, they do provide qualitatively interesting information, as described in Detroit SUN Project 3 the paper. The project team concludes by proposing recommendations for future initiatives in edge communities similar to the project???s target neighborhood.

Topics: residential energy efficiency, urban environmental education, Detroit, community development, demonstration house
Year: 2011
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