Detroit – Creating a Healthy, Connected City

Another effort that SEMCOG supported was the regional GreenWays Initiative. From 2001 to 2006, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan initiative aimed to connect communities in southeast Michigan through greenways by providing funding and support for green infrastructure projects.[1] While the grant-making portion of the initiative has ended, its influence can still be felt. In fact, there is an effort currently underway to ensure that the greenways remain well maintained and utilized. This effort and planning for long-term sustainability of the greenways network is being led by The Greening of Detroit and staffed by Detroiters trained in its workforce development program.

In 2012, The Villages Community Development Corporation released its “A Vision of Greenways for the Greater Riverfront East District of Detroit,” which offers a plan for 16 miles of greenways along the Detroit River. Similar to the Greenways Initiative, this vision presents “a realistic plan for creating a network of greenways on Detroit’s Greater Riverfront East District. … This plan serves as a catalyst for economic development, as a tool for bringing communities together and as a way of defining a new future for Detroit’s greater riverfront east.” This plan was developed by the Greater Riverfront East Environment Network (GREEN) Task Force comprised of community residents, neighborhood and business associations and other collaborators — plus, the plan received input from the city of Detroit, Michigan Department of Transportation and others.[2]

Detroit Eastern Market. Credit: DIG Downtown Detroit

A similar city-sponsored project is underway nearby. In July 2012, the city of Detroit was awarded a $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for a project to promote walking and biking near downtown Detroit.[3] As part of Link Detroit — a multi-modal enhancement plan designed by the city — this project will connect important commercial and business areas, such as the Detroit RiverWalk, Eastern Market, Midtown and Hamtramck destinations.

The many interconnected efforts to green Detroit and its environs, from tree planting to workforce training to green infrastructure development, are crucial not only for the ecological health of the city, but also for its economic recovery.

“Improving the economic vitality and nonmotorized connectivity in Detroit are key components to the city’s long-term sustainability and viability,” according to Link Detroit’s TIGER grant application.[4]

“I think the quality of the vegetation is directly correlated with the quality of life, the appearance, the appeal of a community,” adds Sayers of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “A well-maintained urban forest yields many benefits, including a greater desire to invest in the city — whether with new residents or new businesses. Healthy and well-maintained public trees establish community appeal and a sense of vibrancy that leads to healthier communities as well.”

With the work and cooperation of so many groups, a healthy urban forest, healthy citizenry and healthy Detroit may very well emerge in Michigan in the years to come.

“I think we’re doing a good job in improving the quality of life for people,” Associate Forester Mistor says. “We need to do it one step at a time, one block at a time.”


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[1] Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. Green Infrastructure. (accessed Sept. 10, 2012).

[2] Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Greenways Initiative. A Vision of Greenways for the Greater Riverfront East District of Detroit. (accessed Sept. 17, 2012).

[3] Spangler, T. Link Detroit Project Gets $10 Million to Improve Routes for Bicyclists, Pedestrians. Detroit Free Press [Online] 2012. (accessed Sept. 17, 2012).

[4] City of Detroit. Department of Public Works. Link Detroit: A Multi-Modal Enhancement Plan TIGER Discretionary Grant Application. (accessed Sept. 17, 2012).