Model D Talk

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Model D Talk

Welcome to the Green Garage.

Let me tell you a little about how this project came to be. When my husband Tom retired in 2001, and I was completing a degree in library science, we decided to start a grassroots group focused on living a more sustainable lifestyle, and called it Great Lakes Green Initiative. With friends, we began weekly meetings - every Tuesday morning - and began deep learning into topics of our choosing (for example, we spent 8 months on water alone). As we moved through each topic, we found our lifestyles we also changing (keeping with the water example, we installed rain barrels, changed over to dual-flush toilets, set up shower timers, and one family, having to replace their hot water tank, installed a tankless hot water system.)

In our original plans, we thought that we’d like to set up a demonstration center, where people could learn more about sustainable living ideas from us and each other. We thought Ann Arbor would be the most logical spot for such a center and began scouting locations. As we discussed this project with others, we kept hearing the same thing: this project belongs in Detroit. It made sense to us, and so we contacted a real estate agent and began the search. This was the first building we saw, and we immediately felt it was right.

So we bought the building last year, and then had to decide what exactly we were going to do with it. We had general ideas, but needed to spend some time developing our plans. For the first 6 months, we met with about 12 people who helped us develop what you might call our foundational philosophy. So we decided that the project would be centered on a close relationship with the natural elements of the earth, that we would incorporate a one-planet style of living, and that decisions made at the Green Garage would incorporate 3 elements: environmental sustainability, economic justice, and community well-being. Everything that we have planned since then has to meet these requirements.

We knew, next, that we’d have to remodel the building and develop our business plan, so we set up a series of meetings for anyone interested in developing this along with us. Altogether, we have had 30 people working with us in various capacities, volunteering their time. It’s been an incredible learning experience.

Our net zero energy group has developed an energy plan that will allow us to heat this 11,000 sq ft building as if it were 1,000 sq ft, mainly using passive design techniques. Our garden group has the happy task of removing all of the cement around the building and has developed a plan that will plant 90% native plants around the building and greatly increase water absorption around the building. Our business group has developed a business model -- renting space to those who would like to develop green businesses, or who would like to work in a green environment, and providing a center for community workshops. Our design group has provided the ideas for the building design, both interior and exterior, using the work of Christopher Alexander in his book ‘A Pattern Language.’ Our materials group has found a way to reuse 90% of the materials that we are taking down in the building, and have found a way to utilize natural materials and used materials for most of the other 10%.

So where are we today? We have just received approval from the historic commission to green up our alley. Construction should begin within a month. We have hired architects to do the final renderings of the building, and construction should begin this summer. We will continue to meet during construction, continuing to learn and helping to guide the process. The construction should take about a year.

As we have been working throughout the year, weather permitting, we have set up a card table out in front of the building to have our lunch. We have met incredible people who have passed by and were wondering about the project. We have also, bit by bit, become linked in to other projects, businesses and individuals in this Midtown community, and have been incredibly impressed with the dedication of the people here. The biggest bonus for us has been the response we are able to give when people tell us of their concerns about Detroit -- we are able to talk about new things happening, people committed to a city, people committed to a cause. It’s greatly invigorating, and it’s wonderful to be part of a life-giving environment such as this.

Thanks for visiting, and please feel free to learn more about the project at