Lawrence Tech helps chart a green future for Southwest Detroit
Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
A multi-disciplinary team at Lawrence Tech is utilizing cutting-edge applied design research to create a blueprint for turning Southwest Detroit into a green community that could ultimately produce all the energy it uses.
This project got its start three years ago when Assistant Professor Constance Bodurow of the College of Architecture and Design and Adjunct Faculty Calvin Creech of the College of Engineering established studio[Ci], a research lab that draws on the expertise of professional architects, urban designers, and civil, mechanical, and environmental engineers. The studio uses multiple software programs to provide an inventory of a community’s characteristics, not just population density, housing stock, and infrastructure, but also public amenities and historical and cultural resources.
With funding from Local Initiatives Support Corp. and the American Institute of Architects, they have been working in the 20-square-mile Southwest Detroit neighborhood that includes Mexicantown, the Ambassador Bridge, and frontage on the Detroit and Rouge Rivers – one of the few sections of Detroit that has been gaining population.
Now Bodurow and Creech have expanded the research project after receiving a $50,000 grant from the Ford College Community Challenge (Ford C3) of the Ford Motor Company Fund for a proposal to create Michigan’s first net-zero energy community in Southwest Detroit.
The Lawrence Tech team is working closely with the Southwest Detroit Development Collaborative – a coalition of more than a dozen community nonprofit groups – and the Southwest Detroit Business Association. The research team is evaluating potential projects that can leverage existing assets and planned regional infrastructure investment while also incorporating new initiatives that community leaders have already identified.
Energy self-sufficiency is a lofty goal that has been attempted in only a few communities around the world, but it may be achievable in the project area, according to Associate Professor Robert Fletcher, director of the alternative energy engineering program at Lawrence Tech who is a consultant for the Ford C3 project.
The design proposal that has generated the most interest is wrapping the Michigan Central Station in solar panels that would generate enough electricity for future uses of the historic structure and perhaps hundreds of homes. Other proposed alternative energy sources include geothermal, subterranean storage, and hydro-current energy systems in the Detroit River
“A hybrid alternative energy approach could supply much if not all of Southwest Detroit’s energy needs,” Fletcher said.The other side of the self-sufficiency equation is reducing consumption. The studio[Ci] team has created a baseline “eco-footprint” for the neighborhood to document current neighborhood consumption and capacity in six categories – land, water, food, energy, mobility and materials, goods and services.
“We then asked ourselves what does Southwest Detroit have, in critical mass, that can be leveraged in support of sustainability and net-zero energy?” Bodurow said.
The team seeks to analyze and identify the optimum locations for energy/density hubs that would incorporate bike paths, car-and-bike-share facilities, electric-vehicle charging stations, and a more responsive public transportation system.
The Lawrence Tech research team has identified five essential elements of sustainable urbanism:
“We believe in a holistic and systemic approach to the design of a sustainable urban environment,” Bodurow said.
To bring together information from many sources that can be understood more easily, studio[Ci] has created a unique digital interface that incorporates ESRI ArcGIS, a geographic information systems computer program taught at Lawrence Tech, and the popular programs Google Earth and Google SketchUp.
“We use our digital interface to map data, conduct analysis, and then design. We seek to determine the ‘geography of convergence’ of social, economic, and environmental asset density in the Southwest Detroit neighborhood and then develop formal design recommendations,” Bodurow explained. “Our goal with the Ford C3 project is to develop a prototype for the city and region by creating a green guidelines plan that is enhanced by a digital interface to supporting data.”
Creech is modeling potential green initiatives based on data from the 2010 Census, the LEED rating system for neighborhood development criteria, and the existing plans of community leaders. Since there is no single solution for reaching energy self-sufficiency, a geospatial modeling approach has been developed to find the optimal locations for siting a variety of sustainable energy approaches throughout the community, according to Creech.
“The community needs to follow a comprehensive approach that develops tangible projects, funding sources, and a phased implementation strategy,” Creech said. “We believe the research provided by the Lawrence Tech team should provide a sound foundation for grant applications and public project proposals.”
The Ford Fund has awarded five grants to colleges for projects in environmental sustainability, including a community bike share program at Georgia Tech University. One requirement of the grant is the active engagement of students throughout the project.
“This is the generation that will have to come up with the solutions for maintaining a sustainable society,” said Michael Schmidt, director of education and community development for the Ford Motor Company Fund.
CoAD students who have worked as research assistants on the Ford C3 Southwest Detroit project are Jordan Martin, Kurt Neiswender, Aaron Olko, and HaiBin Tan.