Eco-friendly ‘green’ district launched in Detroit

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wednesday marked the official launch of a “green” building district in Detroit that aims to significantly curb energy use, water consumption and transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

Officials gathered at NextEnergy to celebrate the Detroit 2030 District, a private-public partnership associated with a larger national collaboration working to boost sustainability at existing buildings by as much as 50 percent in the next 13 years.

“This is a huge part of Michigan’s future,” said Valerie Brader, executive director at the Michigan Agency for Energy, told more than 100 guests. “It really gets us to a brighter future for everybody.”

Some 3 million square feet in the Motor City have been committed to the effort that strives to make Detroit healthier and more livable. It’s the 16th such territory in North America, second in Michigan, and a strategic initiative of the local region under the U.S. Green Building Council, which focuses on cost-efficient and energy-saving structures, coordinators said.

Advocates and others involved in environmental efforts tout the district as a key piece in helping Detroit move forward.

“Our mission is to become the most sustainable city in North America,” said Joel Howrani Herres, Detroit’s director of sustainability.

First established more than a decade ago, the green districts are tied to the nonprofit 2030 Districts Network, which includes more than 300 million square feet of commercial real estate where owners have pledged to work toward achieving the goals outlined by the Architecture 2030 Challenge, according to the website.

Inspired by success elsewhere, local officials have been working for nearly four years to form one in the Motor City, said Margaret Matta of Redstone Architects, who works with the district advisory board. “It seemed like that was a great idea for Detroit.”

The local district now extends from the Detroit River to the New Center area and includes commercial buildings and multi-family units, said director Connie Lilley, adding boundaries could change as more participants are sought.

Its goal of reducing imprints dovetails with the city’s rebirth, she said.

“This could not be a better time for us to launch,” Lilley said.

The district lists property owner members, including Comerica Bank, Bedrock Detroit and the Michigan Science Center.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History also is among the members.

“It’s huge because we are a public learning institution space,” said Leslie Tom, its chief sustainability officer. “We want to be one of the leaders for talking about how museums can lead for sustainability and environmental justice.”

Another member is Wayne State University, which has been exploring a greenhouse gas inventory as well as other efforts aimed at assessing the campus’ impact, said Daryl Pierson, its sustainability coordinator.

“It’s important for us to be a good neighbor and have a good presence — to be a good environmental steward of the area we’re in,” Pierson said.