Blog: Peggy Brennan

Creating green, sustainable communities in Detroit will take more than just fuzzy, eco-friendly sentiments. For Peggy Brennan, co-owner of the soon-to-open Green Garage, a Detroit-based business incubator for conservation-minded businesses, it's mission critical. We bring back Peggy's blog on net zero energy design, why LEED certified isn't enough, and how Detroit is ready to go green.

Post 2: The Role of Community at the Green Garage

In my last post, I mentioned that we are developing three things at the Green Garage: a building, a business and a community. The people who rent space from us will not just be viewed as renters, but as part of a cooperative community. And we intend for the community to stretch far beyond our physical walls. In fact, this has already begun.

We have just finished the design phase of our building project, and we would not have arrived at this point without 40-plus dedicated volunteers who believed in the project and came week after week to participate in design sessions. People from all walks of life, from engineers and architects to students, arrived at our doorstep asking how they could help. Our only requirement, we told each one, is that they do what they love to do. And they took us up on the offer.

One day, I was sitting in on a net zero energy design session (not my area of interest, but I was writing a report on it). I began drifting off, only to snap back to attention when one of the engineers, with tears in her eyes, told the group how excited she was to participate in something so deeply meaningful to her. She had found her sweet spot.

Community is equally important as we enter the construction phase. When we hired the various contractors, we warned them that this would not be your typical job. First, they needed to participate in a series of community meetings before construction began, getting to know the design people and, most importantly, the other contractors they would be working with. As we finished off the details of the design, they all had an opportunity to discuss possible problems with each other, before the first swing of the hammer. In addition, we are asking each contractor, in addition to members of the original design team, to meet every Friday for lunch and participate in a weekly review to make sure we are keeping true to our design.

We are also asking that they continue to work with us long-term as we monitor the building's functioning, to see if it matches our expectations, and then to help us make adjustments if it does not. Their roles are so inclusive and interactive that we thought the term ' contractor' was insufficient, so we are calling them our 'building community.'

Once the building is open for business, we plan on running it like a cooperative. One of the major faults of current green design (like LEED certification) is that no one monitors the building and the practices inside once it is up and running. You may achieve LEED certification upon opening, but the people inside may continue wasteful habits (like adjusting the thermostat). So we will be asking tenants to be partners with us to allow the building to reach its full potential. They may need to open and shut windows, depending on outside conditions. They may need to shut off overhead lights and use task lights. They may need to adjust the way they bring food into and out of the building. In short, we'll be looking for clients who want to work cooperatively with others for the good of the whole.

One more example of our community emphasis is the Green Alley project. We plan on turning the alley just south of our building into a pedestrian-friendly greenway, lined with Michigan native plants that will not only beautify the alley but also absorb much of the rainfall. This project was community based from the start. We needed the approval of all of the residents and businesses to proceed. We are developing a collective trash/recycling center. Most importantly, we want this to be a place where people will want to gather and learn from each other.