City moves from bronze to silver to gold
Posted on 06/03/2024
The city's tree canopy includes trees in Ford Field.  Photo by Liz CezatA record 63 local governments across Michigan have been recognized for their sustainability efforts and environmental leadership through their participation in the Michigan Green Communities (MGC) Challenge. This year’s participants included 43 cities, 11 townships, seven counties and two villages. Together, they represent 4.1 million Michiganders.

Communities are awarded bronze, silver, gold or platinum seals of achievement. The city of Northville received a gold seal of achievement for leadership in 2023 in areas such as energy efficiency, climate adaptation and resilience, improving health outcomes and more. It was among 36 communities that achieved gold seals; 20 achieved silver seals and seven achieved bronze seals.

The Sustainability Team, chaired by Kathy Spillane, entered the award competition on behalf of the city. Others on the team are: Mike Domine, DPW director; Lori Ward, DDA director; AnnaMaryLee Vollick and Thom Barry, both on the Planning Commission; Susan Haifleigh; Dave Gutman, past chair; City Council Member John Carter; and John Porterfield.

Northville was at the bronze level in 2019 when the Sustainability Team was formed. “After we put together a plan, which was adopted by City Council, we implemented several projects such as replacing streetlights with LED bulbs, planting street trees and installing more EV charging stations,” said Spillane. “This helped us earn silver status.”

The city then took on more complex projects such as the permeable pavement on Wing Court, Smart Growth advocacy for new construction, non-motorized transportation infrastructure, the Tree Champions, Low Impact Development ordinances for managing stormwater and energy conservation plans. These and other efforts helped the city achieve gold status.

The team got credit for completed projects and those in process. For example, they are in the middle of conducting a Green Ordinance audit through the Office of Strategic Planning and Special Projects, headed by Wendy Wilmers-Longpre. Paul DeBono, a member of the Planning Commission, Spillane and Domine are on the Steering Committee. The audit is being conducted by Birchline Planning and Corvias Infrastructure Solutions. The audit will review the city’s codes, ordinances, policies and procedures, to determine where barriers exist to the use of Low Impact Development practices and recommend greener alternatives.

The DDA and DPW converted sodium-gas lights in Downtown Northville to LED, which is a tremendous energy savings and produces brighter light. To better manage stormwater, the city piloted the permeable pavement on Wing Court. Observations by the residents suggest that it was initially absorbing a lot of water, but has slowed down. That’s because the pavement requires vacuuming to clear dirt and debris from the porous surface, which needs to be done by a contractor.

The Sustainability Team and Rouge River Task Force came together to advocate for non-motorized paths and a more cyclist/pedestrian-friendly road system in the community. This included giving feedback on the 7 Mile and Sheldon roundabout and making recommendations for the Downs River Park paths. To improve pedestrian safety, the DPW has been painting more visible crosswalks in the downtown area.

When The Downs project was being reviewed, the Planning Commission challenged the width of the roads. They wanted a more walkable community and traffic calming measures. They also advocated strongly for walkability while deliberating the Master Plan updates for sub areas. Economic development was also a big factor in The Downs project - building in a substantial commercial area to cater to the growing residential sections of the city.

As part of internal operations, the city has reduced paper usage. It began the process in May with the rollout of the Diligent Community agenda/package online system for City Council meetings. After that successful pilot, the online system will be applied to other boards and commissions in the fall. City Manager George Lahanas estimated the city used 50,000 to 70,000 sheets of paper annually to produce agendas/packets for meetings.

The Tree Champion group is educating the public about the importance of a tree canopy, which provides a cooling effect, cleans the air, supports wildlife and enhances the beauty of the community. The Tree Champions conduct seminars on tree care and have put together a tour of majestic trees in the city on an app. Porterfield, an arborist, chairs this volunteer group.

“All of these projects and others were considered in the award designation,” Spillane said. “This certification recognizes our efforts to achieve that balance of economic development, sustainability, social needs and quality of life factors.

“The pillars of our (sustainability) plan are economic, environmental and social,” she noted. “When we recognize conflict between the pillars, that shows up on our radar, and we strive to figure out ways to resolve those conflicts.

“For example, parking is paired with property development and economic development, which is positive,” she said. “Too much parking surface is bad for our creeks and rivers because oil discharge sends a lot of pollution into storm sewers. There’s even a name for it: non-point pollution. Parking also affects the social side of sustainability. If there is not enough parking, people get frustrated, but large parking lots detract from walkability.”

“Michigan’s local governments are critical to creating and protecting clean, safe and healthy environments for Michiganders,” said Julie Staveland, assistant division director for the Materials Management Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). “We’re proud to support the Michigan Green Communities program and partner with them to accelerate local action on waste diversion, energy efficiency, clean energy adoption and climate resilience.”

Michigan Green Communities (MGC) is a free program open to all local governments in the state. MGC provides networking, benchmarking and technical assistance to guide communities in their work to improve their sustainability efforts and adapt to the changing climate. The program also helps communities protect infrastructure. The goal of this work is to create a more environmentally and economically sustainable future for Michigan.

“MGC provides an in-depth view of what it means to be a sustainable community by providing topics that we should examine and also metrics for charting our progress,” noted Spillane.

MGC is supported by EGLE, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Association of Counties, the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Association. MGC is funded by EGLE and MEDC with in-kind staffing support from the Michigan Municipal League.