Sterling Heights

Sterling Heights forms new sustainability commission

When it comes to his concerns for the environment, both in his city and around the world, Sterling Heights resident Mark Graf describes himself as "more pragmatic than alarmist". The retired engineer has signed up to be a part of the city's new sustainability commission and admits environmental issues can be daunting for the average citizen.

"Big issues like climate change, urban tree canopies, flooding risks, recycling, and environmental justice can all be so overwhelming," Graf said. "There are a lot of conflicting priorities, but they don’t have to be. It is too easy to give in to 'doomism' and hopelessness."

"A way to address that anxiety is to channel it into getting involved," he said. "I know from experience that big issues are best tackled by breaking them out into manageable 'bite-size' portions. Starting locally is a great way to directly see changes taking place."

Sterling Heights has been encouraging residents interested in energy efficiency, water conservation, waste minimization, and carbon footprint reduction to apply for appointment to a position on the newly-formed commission. City officials said the commission will be an active advisor group to the city council on a variety of planning and policy initiatives that promote the social, economic and environmental health of the community.

“Sterling Heights is committed to being a progressive community, and in order to do that, you have to be forward thinking,” said Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor.

“We need to have our eyes on the future, and recognize that meeting community needs today cannot compromises the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Progressive municipalities research and consider advancements in science and technology to ensure a sustainable environment, and that’s what we aim to do here in Sterling Heights.”

This month, the city will appoint five residents to serve on the commission for one one-year term, two two-year terms and two three-year terms. These individuals will meet six times during the next year, and undertake research needed to draft the city’s sustainability plan. City officials said this plan will become a critical planning tool as the city undertakes efforts to achieve sustainability.

For residents like Graf, this is an opportunity to shape the way the city invests in natural assets, and Graf sees a chance to prepare the city for the future, including mitigating budget risks.

"It is important that we make data-driven decisions that follow the science," Graf said. "The commission has the potential to make recommendations that could influence planning, zoning, and so many other aspects of city development. So a first goal is to examine what data we have on any given issue and work to fill in the gaps the best as we can."

"The commission is just forming now and the charter is quite broad," Graf said. "We have a lot to learn. Some think this pandemic is nature’s way of telling us in a big way to push the pause button, it is time to examine if we are truly on a sustainable path forward when we hit play again."

Graf hopes the city can set an example to other areas, and that the momentum catches on.

"Given our current moment, that’s one contagion I’d like to be part of," he said. 
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Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at