A project to drive long-term community engagement has started to make tangible steps forward in suburban Detroit. The Global LafargeHolcim Awards Bronze 2018 winner aims to improve living conditions in an area emerging from economic decline. The components of the project include solar power generation, rainwater collection and urban farming – which all make the neighborhood more attractive for renters and potential home-owners, thereby building momentum for urban recovery.
A third of the houses on Seebaldt Street in district 48204 are boarded-up and vacant. The high level of vacancy is common across Detroit where an estimated 70,000 buildings out of a total stock of 300,000 houses are unoccupied, following the decline of the auto industry and its impact on employment and city revenues. The community-driven neighborhood planning project introduces multifunctional canopies on several empty plots of land to produce solar power for the houses in Seebaldt Street and collect rain water for urban gardening projects. The city of Detroit has relatively high utility charges. The cost of maintaining the extensive water supply network has been spread across fewer and fewer households, impacting on disposable income.
A first small-scale prototype canopy has been installed to demonstrate the positive effect of solar power and to familiarize local residents with the idea behind it. The solar panels will supply 33 houses on 40 plots of land along Seebaldt Street with electricity at lower cost. By increasing the quality of life, the project aims to trigger interest in renting or buying vacant houses that will contribute to rejuvenating the area. In a later phase of the project, a former schoolhouse along the street is to be converted into a local community center. The project’s long-term vision is to create a fully functional, cooperatively owned “micro-grid” that will deliver both reduced energy and water costs and a revenue stream for community services, initiatives, and investments within an enhanced public realm.