staff, April 27, 2015

Michigan_MaxBrandonFor decades now, Flint, Mich., located about 60 miles northwest of Detroit, has been dogged by a terrible reputation. From the film ?Roger and Me,? a chronicle of the city?s descent into poverty as manufacturing jobs dried up, to the steady stream of national headlines about its high ranking in areas such as violent crime and population decline, the place is cast in an overwhelmingly negative light.

But there?s been one recent bright spot, thanks to a collaboration involving the municipality, the University of Michigan, and various neighborhood, city and county partners. These institutions worked together to establish a large eco-park in Flint - one that can serve more than 10,000 low-income, African-American residents, 29 percent of whom are under 18.

Flint is one of six cities participating in the Climate Center?s Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities (GLAA-C)? program, which sits within the University of Michigan?s Graham Sustainability Institute. The Institute aims to serve as a bridge between the university?s research community and practitioners in the field.

?This is our first partnership of its kind with the university,? said Kevin Schronce, a planner for the City of Flint. ?It is very interesting that the University of Michigan doesn't just participate in research, but also works with [local] people on a daily basis.?

Last year, the City of Flint adopted its first master plan since 1960, and it included a project to rehabilitate Max Brandon Park, particularly in terms of native ecology. And GLAA-C and the Graham Sustainability Institute were key partners in that initiative.

?Max Brandon is home to oak savanna, wild turkeys, deer and multiple bird species,? Schronce said. ?But due to mismanagement, the park used to be in very bad shape. Our plan was to show people that naturalization of a 107-acre park through expanded wetlands for stormwater retention and removal of invasive plant species can provide a more beautiful and sustainable environment.

?Graham [Sustainability Institute] helped with a lot of climate data in this project,? he added. ?Max Brandon Park aligns with Graham?s vision and model of getting people aware through action-based sustainability projects. It connects engineering and design students together with the city staff and community practitioners such as the Friends of Max Brandon Park.?

One other thing Graham and GLAA-C helped with was educating and engaging the local population on the ecological revitalization of the park.

?It?s important to include previously excluded populations and educate them about urban ecology,? Schronce said. ?A lot of these residents had little or no exposure to sustainability. They were concerned that park-naturalization approaches meant that the city planned to let parks ?go wild? with weeds and pests.?

[btn-post-package]At this point, Max Brandon Park is still marshy and not wholly usable for residents, but that will come in time as more people get involved with the project. Whether they serve as park stewards or use the space for leisure activities, residents will be able to enjoy a place that reflects distinctive characteristics of the city?s culture and natural environment.

?We have a lot of work to do, and we need more private involvement,? Schronce said. ?But I have hope that projects such as Max Brandon Park will expand the culture of sustainability and give people an opportunity to celebrate Earth Day every day.?

By Simona Novinec