Blog: Jordan Eizenga & Michael Stepniak

Lowering regional energy usage isn't just one-off municipal LED lighting or solar power projects; cities now see that information sharing is power. We check in with Jordan Eizenga and Michael Stepniak, interns from the UniverCities program of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance charged with helping Metro Detroit cut back energy usage 25% by 2015.

Michael Stepniak: Inside Southgate

Working in the city of Southgate through the UniverCities Connection internship program has been an education. It is a constant source of irritation that 18 tasks are always in need of juggling. It is also exhilarating, and possibly addictive. Sounds sick, right? But there's never a dull moment here.

Much of the work is invisible, and yet vital. A typical day could consist of going through lines of city contracts and filling out spreadsheets with data outlining benefits, taking notes on zoning codes, and going through dusty notecards from the '80s to find the Social Security number of a city employee who retired in the '70s because someone entered it into the computer wrong in the '90s.

Today, I will be proofreading and formatting the new city budget. Then I will copy it and put it together into books. I have been informed that no matter how it looks, we will get complaints about some aspect of the formatting. On Friday, I found a missing line in a contract that could be a potential hang-up for an initiative in the works, so after making the budget books, I will be looking through the past thirty years of contracts for said missing line. If I have time, I will then pick one of three spreadsheets to chip away at.

City government is the sum of many tiny jobs, all of which must be done. The budget must be made into little books. A retiree's Social Security number must be entered correctly in the health care system. Regionalist policies and money-saving policies must be implemented, and to do so, someone must fill out spreadsheets with the relevant data and do the policy research. (Southgate happens to be a particularly energy-conscious place: several buildings have solar panels, City Hall has transitioned to energy-efficient light bulbs, the city purchased an electric car, and city officials aggressively pursue grants to further their efforts.)

It is one thing to live in a major metropolitan area. It is quite another to attempt to understand what makes it one. Cities, in my opinion, are our most fascinating human construct, and my time in Southgate has been instructional as to what I have come to think of as How Things Work. It's all pretty fantastic, if you ask me.