Amanda Dentler is the Outreach Director for the BetterBuildings for Michigan program at the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office
(SEMREO). SEMREO is a non-profit entity jointly operated by the Michigan Suburbs Alliance and WARM Training Center. Through SEMREO, Amanda works to enable cities to become more energy efficient and reduce their global warming impact, as the organization aims to transform the region’s image from "Rust Belt" to "Green Belt."
Amanda's fervor for grassroots advocacy was whetted as she grew up in various cities and rural regions throughout the US, where she came to understand the importance of linking grassroots movements to upper branches of policy reform. During the past decade, her dedication to sustainable change was elevated as she worked as an international development worker on four continents promoting sustainable practices for a variety of social movements.
While Amanda spent the majority of her life living and working elsewhere, she has always called Michigan 'home', and it was with great enthusiasm that Amanda returned to her home state in 2009 to focus on environmental justice and community development projects. Her work with the BetterBuildings for Michigan program allows her to align her passions for social justice with regional efforts to empower a greener Metro Detroit.
Amanda is a graduate of Brandeis University, where she earned her MA in international sustainable development at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. She is the founder of two international organizations, with professional experiences ranging from climate change adaptation programs at the United Nations to education projects in the Middle East. An eternal optimist, Amanda can be found dreaming up a greener tomorrow as she feeds the geese on the shores of Belle Isle.
While working on a climate change adaptation project in Asia, a colleague asked me where I was from.
"Michigan", I replied with confidence, even though I hadn’t lived there for over six years. "Do you know where that is?" I asked.
"Sure, I know all about Michiganistan," he said matter-of-factly.
My colleague went on to explain how Michigan is a legendary example in his country of how the pressures of consumerism and globalization have affected the economic security of the United States. He pointed out that Detroit specifically was known to him as a developing city that, in different geographic contexts, would qualify for international aid and funding.
"Your city has corrupted politics; racial tensions; high unemployment, crime and homeless rates; blighted cities; deteriorating healthcare; poor public education; disempowered citizens; and you’re consuming and abusing your natural resources at a phenomenally unsustainable rate – all the makings of a developing country."
Wow. Talk about a bittersweet wake-up call. I started to think, "What has Detroit become?"
I never really thought about Detroit as an internationally developing city. But as I returned to my home state I couldn't help but view it with a global perspective. I began comparing Detroit to cities like Cairo, Beirut, and Antananarivo, and saw its many similarities. Yes, I did see the bleak image of Detroit that my colleague saw. I saw the gaps in the system and the injustices that plague the city, but as I looked closer I saw something else too.
As I came to learn this city and become intimately connected with its hopeful pulse, I saw beyond the desolate picture that my colleague painted. I saw a city vying to be transformed into a glorified example of innovative economic recovery; a city that has the potential to be raised as a national, then global example of how to pioneer (and implement) home-grown, sustainable practices.
The more I get to know this city, the more I realize that I need to ask "What will Detroit become?"
The city's industrial past offers it the edge to be a model for how a city can re-image itself from the inside out. I mean, who better than Detroit – he crown jewel of the industrial revolution – to be the model for the region's 'green revolution'? Imagine car factories turned into solar panel factories, auto workers contracted as alternative energy experts, and homeowners who once owned some of the highest carbon footprints in the nation, reducing their CO2 impacts on a wide-swept regional scale.
As I reflect on my return to my home state, and my rebound from international globetrotter to suburb-city commuter, I realize that I don't know what Detroit will become, but I do know that I look forward to being a part of its rise to fame as it works to reunite itself with the innovative developments that begot its original fame. The city is clearly emerging as a key player in the nation's economic turnaround and I see it eventually becoming an international beacon for successful sustainable development.
And it is in that setting, and with those hopes, that I enthusiastically work with a talented group of partners on an innovative program that aims to transform Detroit's image from a rust belt to a green belt. But more on that tomorrow....