Grassroots Profile Unique Partnerships Plan for a Higher Quality Of Life in the Detroit River Region

Grassroots Profile Unique Partnerships Plan for a Higher Quality Of Life in the Detroit River Region

By Don A. Griffin, Advisor to the Friends of the Detroit River Board of DirectorsThe Friends of the Detroit River has received, from a variety of sources, positive responses to its environmental statements, yearly events and activities. Seeking a higher quality of life is a goal mutually supported by diverse organizations, agencies, and businesses in Wayne County.A recent Green Buildings Forum was hosted by a partnership of groups as a public service. Participants enjoyed a program of speakers, as well as a tour of “green” facilities of the Environmental Interpretive Center and two packets of materials on the subject. The audience of lay people, elected officials, architects, university professors and environmentalists applauded the principal speaker, Paul Goldsmith, chairman of the Detroit Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) when he said, “Sustainability is not an issue of doing less bad, but what we need to do is more good.”

The architectural firm of Hamilton Anderson, hired by Wayne County Parks, presented their preliminary plans for the Gateway Project of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. The audience was thrilled that the goal for the project is a LEED certified Platinum rating. The USGBC certifies buildings using their Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) criteria. The county hopes to use a combination of methods to achieve this high level of LEED certification.

Saundra Nelson, director of special projects for the Wayne County Department of Services says the building and site for the Gateway Project on the Detroit River fall right in line with Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano’s goal of creating a high quality of life in Wayne County. She added, “We are shooting for the stars because we think it’s important to develop a LEED certified building.”

These statements were happily received by those in attendance, and especially by John Hartig, Manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, whose office will be at the Gateway Project Visitor Center. A great deal needs to be done to achieve such a lofty goal. A Visitor Center and grounds that achieve a high LEED certification will attract world-wide attention and draw a variety of visitors to the Detroit area.

Michigan already is among the top 10 states for environmentally friendly and energy efficient buildings that have been certified using LEED criteria. In spite of this trend it is estimated that 19 of every 20 buildings, now being constructed in the U.S., will never be energy efficient nor environmentally friendly.

The common belief is that it costs less to build structures that are not “green.” However, there are LEED certified buildings and homes at all levels of the cost strata. In addition, the buildings boasting LEED certification also report savings that more than make up for any initial costs.

The sublime comfort and ambiance experienced by visitors of the Philip Merrill Environmental Center on Chesapeake Bay is so impressive that many visitors immediately begin to consider the “greening” of their own buildings. It is the only building in North America to receive the Platinum Certification level from LEED. The only other building rated Platinum by LEED certification is located in India.

The original planning partners: Don A. Griffin and Blair McGowan of Friends of the Detroit River; John Hartig of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Orin Gelderloos of the University of Michigan – Dearborn expect to be joined by additional agencies, businesses, and organizations in our continuing pursuit of a higher quality of life. A grant from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund was helpful in establishing the partnerships needed to “pull off” the first forum/seminar of what may well become a part of FDR’s annual calendar of events. Additional seminars on a variety of subjects are already in the planning stage.

Our partners and supporters for this successful forum were:U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Michigan – Dearborn, Green Building Council – Detroit Regional Chapter, National City Mortgage Co., Wayne County Parks and Recreation Department, Friends of Belle Isle, the Detroit Audubon Society, Spiderweb publisher of eco-structure magazine, Past Tense Bakery, and the Heritage Newspapers that published both pre- and post coverage of the event. Thank you partners and participants.

For more information on this exciting project, please contact Don Griffin at




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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.