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Detroit Environmental Agenda

By Sandra Turner-Handy
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The Detroit Environmental Agenda (DEA) was released in July, after two years of resident engagement around environmental concerns. The 72-page agenda focuses on the environmental, economic and social challenges faced by residents in the city of Detroit through an environmental lens of clean air, clean water, clean energy, zero waste, active transportation, healthy housing and healthy neighborhoods.

The agenda also links existing environmental justice, environmental and sustainability recommendations from the Detroit Future City strategic framework, the City Charter, existing ordinances and local policy initiatives within the city of Detroit.

The process of developing the agenda began in May 2011. An environmental summit took place in the city around the then Detroit Works 2.0 project. Ten of the coordinating environmental and environment justice organizations continued to meet to develop an agenda that would look at existing environmental conditions in the city of Detroit and offer recommendation for a cleaner, safer and healthier city.

Data gathered from residents, through one-on-ones, existing community meetings, surveys, DEA hosted meetings, online feedback and other engagement tools allowed for a citywide environmental mapping of the city.

The agenda is energized by the following five principles:

  • Ensure environmental justice: protect and involve vulnerable populations in decisions that impact their lives.
  • Protect and restore Earth’s resources: land, water, air.
  • Engage affected residents to understand community needs and potential impacts.
  • Leverage the connections between environmental solutions and health, safety, jobs and education.
  • Build on successful models in Detroit and from elsewhere.

The purpose of the agenda is to hold those who we elect accountable to the residents’ agenda and not one of their own. Many of the environmental, economic and social injustice issues Detroiters face can be mitigated through public policies that mandate, promote or lead by example to a healthier, greener and sustainable city. The agenda states: “Detroit is a city of possibilities” if we, the residents, choose to elect those who believe a healthy city means healthy people.

As a tool for environmentally educating those seeking public office in our new district-by-district and at-large city council as well as the mayor’s office, we also developed a voters’ guide. Each candidate was sent a copy of the DEA along with these questions:

  • Do you endorse the Detroit Environmental Agenda?
  • Detroit suffers from very high rates of asthma, cancer and lead poisoning, all influenced by our heavily polluted environment. These problems impact children’s ability to learn and adults’ ability to work. What would you, as an elected official, do to improve Detroit’s environment?
  • How would you, as mayor, be an advocate for resident efforts to improve neighborhood quality of life?
  • In the interest of environmental justice, how would you work to alleviate disproportionate environmental burdens in the city?
  • The city needs to be an advocate for higher environmental standards. If you are elected mayor, would you establish a sustainability office with the power to move Detroit Environmental Agenda recommendations forward? If not, what alternatives would you propose? (Mayoral candidates only)
  • The city needs to be an advocate for higher environmental standards. If you are elected, how do you envision using the Detroit Environmental Agenda as a tool to create policies that improve the city’s environment? (City council candidates only)

Six mayoral and 25 council candidates responded to the questionnaire. The voters’ guide is currently being updated for those candidates who have advanced to the general election ballot.

The guide is a great educational tool that should be expanded across various issues affecting our city to ensure that we elect those who will authentically represent and advocate the concerns of the residents. I ask my fellow residents to support the DEA and utilize the voters’ guide for the upcoming Nov. 5 general election. To view the guide, visit

Sandra Turner-Handy is the community outreach director for the Michigan Environmental Council and a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.

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