Blog: Stephanie Chueh & Jordan Garfinkle

Why consume resources today that can get us through tomorrow? This week we pick the brains of Stephanie Chueh and Jordan Garfinkle, interns from the UniverCities program of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance charged with helping Metro Detroit cities cut their energy usage 25% by 2015.

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!