Blog: Stephanie Chueh & Jordan Garfinkle

Stephanie Chueh is the climate action plan intern at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. This fall, she will begin her sophomore year at the University of Michigan, where she is pursuing dual degrees in business administration and industrial engineering. She is increasingly interested in urban, environmental, and regional issues.

Jordan Garfinkle is the Millennial Mayors Congress Energy Policy Intern with the UniverCities Connection program of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. He is particularly interested in the science-policy interface, primarily with respect to energy and climate change. He has a growing appreciation for the ability of cities and states to address pressing environmental issues in the absence of federal policies. Jordan loves being outside, and has tried just about every sport he's ever encountered (although he's only been any good at a precious few). He is increasingly concerned about the state of the natural world, but is optimistic about society's capacity to tackle big challenges.

Read more about their work on the UniverCities Connection blog.

Stephanie Chueh & Jordan Garfinkle - Most Recent Posts:

Stephanie Chueh: What King David Could Learn From Efficiency

Usually, I'm all about efficiency. Earlier this year, I read a Bible story that described how King David stopped every six steps to offer sacrifices to God on a celebratory route to Jerusalem. Instead of getting the point, I was busy wondering why David didn't just calculate the number of steps to Jerusalem, divide it by six, and then sacrifice the requisite number of animals all at once. Think of the time he could have saved! Thousand-year-old animal sacrifices aside, I've always been trying to find ways to maximize resources.

Metro Detroiters are used to doing a lot with a little these days, and this summer, I'm putting my affinity for efficiency to work as the climate action intern at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. We're helping cities become more efficient in their use of energy while cutting back their contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. I'm creating a library of climate action plan strategies that the cities of Ypsilanti, Hazel Park, and Southgate can use to save energy, save money, and make the most of their capital investments.

So far, the library contains around 25 strategies ranging from topics like land use and transportation to renewable energy and efficiency upgrades. The cities will use the library to develop the climate action plans best suited to their needs. We hope they'll lay the groundwork for other cities to follow their example, and cooperate to share best practices, in years to come.

Many of these strategies can also be combined for a greater impact. Take shade tree planting and sidewalk construction, for instance. On average, each shade tree saves 156 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, or about 240 pounds of carbon dioxide, by reducing cooling costs. It also absorbs about 500 pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide and brings about $97 worth of benefits annually. If we accompany new shade trees with new sidewalks, and the synergy makes our streets more attractive places to walk, we could see even bigger benefits. For every 1,000 car trips replaced with walking or biking trips, we'd save roughly 110 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

I work at the western office of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance in Ypsilanti, and while I've been there I've been able to see some of this firsthand. In 2010, Ypsilanti adopted a non-motorized master plan whose goals include completing the sidewalk system, and the City has also applied for grants to fund its tree planting programs. One of my goals is to use more public transit, and I'm very grateful for Ypsi's wide sidewalks and shaded avenues on my walks to the bus stop.

It's fascinating to witness how even small changes can positively affect a city, and maybe even a region. Having moved beyond the hypothetical biblical conundrums of my past, I want to spend more of my time learning how we can build a more vibrant, sustainable future for cities. A lot of people told me I could better understand Detroit by reading Thomas Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis, and I've already checked it out from the library, but I know that will just be a beginning for me, and I'm trying to find as many works as I can on these topics.

Your suggestions are most welcome!

Jordan Garfinkle: Passionate Young People as a Renewable Resource

As a grad student at UM's School of Natural Resources & Environment, I've been looking into many of the environmental and social issues facing metro Detroit through an academic lens. I noticed that while so much of the research on the region's issues was timely and important, I had a hard time feeling a personal connection to the areas of study. Living in Washtenaw County and in Ann Arbor in particular, it's easy to consider many of Detroit's issues as being from a distant land, a mere case study in post-industrial urbanism; in reality, however, Detroit's success is intimately connected to our own. I wanted to get involved in the effort to revive metro Detroit while developing an understanding of the people and places around me.

At the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, such opportunities abound. Through the UniverCities Connection program, aimed at connecting academic research with real-world problems, I've been working to identify policy options for addressing energy issues across the region. Energy will be a critical component of metro Detroit's future as we grapple with a volatile fossil energy market, concerns about energy security and the growing threat of climate change. When it comes to energy efficiency and renewable energy, there are many laudable examples throughout the country that local communities can emulate when developing policies to address their own needs.

In the interest of aiding resource-strapped cities, I've taken this work one step further by beginning the process of tailoring these broad policy initiatives to metro Detroit. Through my research on municipal energy policies and discussions with local government officials this summer, it's become clear that many cities are interested in addressing energy issues but lack the technical expertise and administrative resources to get started. My aim has been to clarify for them the challenges posed by continued reliance on fossil fuels, and to provide potential solutions.

If we're going to advance the public discussion on energy, though, we need vocal and adamant youth. To raise awareness among the region's Millennials and stimulate their involvement in metro Detroit's energy future, I've organized an open forum for young people. We'll be discussing the energy challenges we face, potential policy options going forward and how to get involved and make our voices heard. And here's my shameless plug: we'll be meeting at the Ferndale Public Library on Thursday, August 4th from 7:30 to 8:30 pm.

I've learned this summer that building a strong, sustainable future for metro Detroit is about more than reaching out; it's also about reaching in. All of the passionate, talented people living and working in the region have a stake in our future – by standing up and speaking out about what that future should hold, we can determine where we go and what metro Detroit becomes. Working on energy issues in metro Detroit has been so rewarding largely because of the pressing problems we face, but also because of the region's potential to chart a course for a more prosperous and sustainable future.  This transition to responsible energy policies can be powered by our most abundant renewable resource – passionate young people demanding the future we deserve.