The Greening of Detroit: Planting Trees, One Vacant Lot At A Time



New trees help reclaim vacant Detroit lot, demonstrate green infrastructure

Detroit has more vacant land than probably any other city in the United States.  This results in the opportunity to make Detroit a greener, healthier urban center.

“The Greening of Detroit is working with the city to address the community’s forestry needs,” said Dean Hay, director of Green Infrastructure at The Greening of Detroit, a non-profit organization. “Our city’s financial constraints have severely reduced forestry.”


Tree Plantings Aimed At Reducing Rainwater Runoff

Most of the trees planted by the The Greening  in 2013 are part of the green infrastructure efforts undertaken by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to reduce stormwater and rainwater runoff in the City’s Cody Rouge neighborhood.  

In June, for example, the DWSD teamed up with The Greening to reclaim a vacant lot in northwest Detroit as a demonstration of the power of green infrastructure. The lot is one of 10 being reclaimed in the Cody Rouge neighborhood with tree plantings and other treatment as a collaborative greening exercise. Workers planted eight trees.

“We at the DWSD believe in increasing green infrastructure in the city,” said DWSD Director Sue McCormick. “Green projects help divert runoff from going into the combined sewer system, and that could reduce costs that are passed on to our customers …  We’re excited about its potential.”


Detroit’s Future City Vision

While small, the tree-planting program in Cody Rouge is meant in part as a demonstration of much more to come. The city’s Detroit Future City plan, a vision for redeveloping the city in coming decades, calls for extensive use of greening treatments to turn Detroit’s many square miles of vacant land into assets for a cleaner, more environmentally sustainable city.

Green infrastructure refers to a wide variety of landscaping, reforestation and other treatments that soften the concrete and asphalt surface of a city to prevent rainwater from overwhelming an already over-burdened sewer system. Detroit, like many other cities that operate a combined sewer and stormwater overflow system, frequently sees heavy rains swamp the sewers and cause untreated waste to overflow in the Detroit River.

Green infrastructure helps prevent that problem by letting rainwater infiltrate into the ground rather than running off hard surfaces into sewers.


“The Greening of Detroit”

The Greening of Detroit is a well-established, nonprofit resource agency that partners with federal, state and local agencies, corporations and foundations to assist neighborhood groups, churches and schools in their efforts to improve the ecosystem in Detroit through tree planting projects, environmental education, urban agriculture, open space reclamation, vacant land management, and workforce development programs.