Posts Tagged ‘Ann Arbor’

Revolving Energy Loan Funds Pay It Forward in Michigan Cities, and Could Go Regional in Detroit

August 5, 2011

Ka-ching! Ann Arbor's fund proved a sure bet. (City of Ann Arbor)

As Jordan Eizenga’s data mining showed us, energy efficiency upgrades can save cities big money. The initial investment required can be an obstacle, though. Those lighting upgrades in Hazel Park and Madison Heights were paid for by federal grants, but how can cash-strapped cities sustain their energy efficiency campaigns after outside funds run out? Energy policy intern Jordan Garfinkle’s research has turned up an answer.

Revolving loan funds are a simple financial device for recapturing the savings recouped by energy efficiency projects. For a certain period of time, the money saved gets shoveled back into an account that will fund additional energy conservation or renewable energy initiatives, helping cities overcome the up-front costs. The money saved in the next round gets put back into the fund, too, where it can be used for more projects, so the sustainability action never stops – at least not until atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are back to normal and our cities are net generators of electricity.

How UM fund recycles the green. (University of Michigan)

Some places in metro Detroit are already climbing on board the revolving loan fund bandwagon, according to Jordan’s research. Ann Arbor started its Municipal Energy Fund with a $100,000 allocation in 1998. 80% of the subsequent energy savings went back to the Fund, and in five years it was self-sustaining. The City of Farmington Hills just made the first deposit in its Energy and Sustainability Account. And the University of Michigan’s Energy Conservation Measures Fund has been around for almost a quarter-century.

Since many of Detroit’s older suburbs are relatively small, they could see the greatest gains by joining forces to create a shared revolving loan fund. “In general,” Jordan writes, “the larger, regional funds with numerous member communities offer many of the benefits of smaller funds without the administrative burden associated with managing a revolving loan fund,” while also offering “augmented purchasing power.” Could the Michigan Suburbs Alliance’s Regional Energy Office get such a regional fund started before long? It’s too early for us to say now, but stay tuned.

To Help Beat Heat Wave, Says Intern, Spruce Up Metro Detroit Streets with Shade Trees

July 21, 2011

Michigan is sweating through its fifth-warmest July in a century. Detroit and other local cities have designated libraries and other public facilities as “cooling centers” where residents can take refuge from temperatures in the mid-90s. Unfortunately, the long-term forecast offers little hope of a respite. Scientists predict that global warming could triple the number of  hot days in Detroit, posing a particular threat to the city’s elderly residents.

UniverCities Connection intern Stephanie Chueh has been researching one climate change mitigation strategy that promises relief to the sweltering streets: shade trees.

Two blocks of the same Ypsilanti street, with trees (L) and without (R).

Trees inhale some carbon dioxide through their leaves, but that‘s not their only climate benefit. By sheltering adjacent buildings from the sun, they can cut down on the use of air conditioning and reduce electricity consumption. In that sense, they serve as both a climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy, not only curbing climate change but lightening the global warming burden that we will have to bear. “I love it when things are multifunctional!” Stephanie says.

According to her research, the average street tree costs the famously leafy City of Ann Arbor something like $250, plus $30 annually in maintenance. The City calculates the estimated yearly energy savings per tree at $47.55. That’s a darn good deal, especially considering the benefits of trees for the human environment. A green canopy makes for more comfort, natural beauty, and higher real estate values, too, suggesting why new tree plantings are so often a part of streetscape improvement plans in cities’ business districts.

Turning over a new leaf: added street trees figure prominently in Ypsilanti's plan to revamp Cross Street. (City of Ypsilanti)

Ideally, Stephanie indicates, tree planting would be just one element in a suite of climate strategies applied to city streets. “A bunch of projects can work together and serve different purposes,” she says. “For example, just building more sidewalks by themselves may not reduce a ton of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, but coupled with LED streetlights that light the way and trees to shade pedestrians, we can begin to take more cars off the road and build more vibrant, livable communities.” After all, what’s a cool city if not a comfortable place to chill?

What Makes the Greatest Place? Interns Describe Their Ideal City

July 15, 2011

What do young people want their region to look like? What do they seek in a place? These are important questions as the state of Michigan struggles to keep college graduates in the state. The Suburbs Alliance has been gathering perspectives from Millennials across metro Detroit through the Millennial Mayors Congress’s regional visioning initiative (see some of the early results here). It seemed logical to ask our interns some of these same questions.

Detroit's Cadillac Square is a unique place in the metro region.

True to Richard Florida’s theories, our interns are looking to live in vibrant urban centers. Stephanie cited attractions like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Ann Arbor library system as big draws. Jordan Eizenga loves the number of concerts in Detroit, though he says “I sometimes suspect they’re just part of a plot to bankrupt me.” Clearly, big-city culture is a draw, whether it’s high, low or in between.

At the same time, interns suggested that the measure of a community wouldn’t necessarily be found by reviewing museum listings or events calendars. “Urban vibrancy could be less tangible than a row of boutiques, upscale dining, or luxury loft living,” said native Detroiter Michael, and more tied to the “struggles and ambitions” of residents. Similarly, Jordan E. said what excites him most are “people trying to improve the place they live in.”

Economic opportunity is undeniably important. “If I can’t work somewhere, I can’t live there,” Jordan E. conceded. Yet interns also emphasized the need to sustain the private sector with needed public services. Michael noted that the region’s economy was long overdue for “accessible, punctual, and frequent” public transportation.

Programs like former Governor Granholm’s Cool Cities Initiative aimed to boost Michigan cities’ lure for Millennials through creating places that appeal to young professionals. This strategy is undeniably important, as the interns’ responses attest. But it can’t be implemented independently from concerted structural reform. For example, walkable communities with a lively street scene are hard to muster when public transit is, in Michael’s words, “flat-out horrible.” We need big changes on a metropolitan level, like establishing a regional transit authority that removes the underlying barriers to people-scaled places. If we’re serious about building a finer region, we need to be in it for the long haul.