Master's and Professional Projects

Displaying 1-10 of 51

Building Sustainable Water Policy in Mexico City

Team 3

(Also Distinguished Award)

Mexico City suffers from both an inadequate supply of potable water and a lack centralized water recycling. One out of five residents have tap water for only a few hours per week and 40% of potable water is lost as it travels through the city’s pipe system. Since a significant proportion of Mexico City’s water is sourced from distant reservoirs and the aquifer below the city’s surface, it is imperative that the city sustainably recycles its water.

We will work with a local nonprofit, La Isla Urbana (The Urban Island), dedicated to enhancing water security through rainwater harvesting in Mexico City. While the NGO’s projects are addressing one side of water insecurity (source point), they can be expanded by treating the water in a closed-loop system. There are multiple challenges is addressing decentralized water treatment: psychological and cultural resistance to drinking reused water, technological implementation, and cost. We are suggesting conducting a feasibility study, including surveys of residents, which will then guide the nonprofit in determining the potential for implementation and adding water treatment systems to their product line.

Co-Designing Resilience: Community-Directed Green Infrastructure Design Using 3D-Interactive Visualization

3D Visualization Software Improvement for Co-designing Community Open Space

Engaging community members in co-designing for sustainability is critical if we hope to overcome ecological, economic, and social challenges, and ensure a sustainable and vibrant future for our communities. Well informed stakeholders, engaged in resilient decision making, are critical to creating place-based sustainability design of open spaces. This Dow Sustainability Fellows project aims to address barriers to citizen engagement by conducting a participatory design project informed by an interactive three dimensional (3-D) landscape design tool.

Our multidisciplinary team will conduct site-scale data collection, 3-D visualization, and facilitate participatory design sessions to co-design an open-space and affordable housing project within target communities of Ann Arbor and Detroit. Once this process is completed, our team will offer economic and policy assessment of the impact that our participatory design project will have for the stakeholders involved with the project.  For the clients we have currently shortlisted, the potential projects will include design for open space planning and/or affordable housing development initiatives.

The team is assessing how to address open-space and community planning goals. Going forward, we will work to facilitate the participatory community engagement using the 3-D landscape visualization tool. Later, through collecting site-scale data and co-creating a design of a site (or several) with community members, we will provide a suite of sustainable design and affordable housing options that meet community needs. Our work will outline a roadmap to implementation of the community-driven designs.

  • Team members:
    Kidus Admassu, Master of Civil & Environmental Engineering; Ayush Awadhiya, Master of Business Administration; Gwen Gell, Master of Urban Planning & Master of Urban Design; Saebom (April) Kwon, Master of Science of Information; and Shannon Sylte, Master of Landscape Architecture. Faculty Advisors: Mark Lindquist, Assistant Professor, School for Environment and Sustainability; and Robert Goodspeed, Assistant Professor, Taubman College, Urban and Regional Planning
  • Dow Sustainability Fellows Program

Keywords: Green Infrastructure, Dow Fellows Program, Co-design, Detroit, Land.Info, environmental design, environmental sensing, stormwater drainage, air quality

Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO) Development

Team 8

(Also Distinguished Award)

Project Background and Scope

Community benefits ordinances (CBOs) are used as tools to prevent harmful development and planning decisions, by setting certain provisions concerning how developers must ensure that the community “benefits” from a project. In 2017, Detroit passed Proposal B, a CBO mandating that any developer receiving local public subsidies or tax breaks above a certain threshold must engage with a local advisory council to address community concerns in the form of community benefits. Developer’s community obligations could range from local hiring requirements to affordable housing minimums and environmental mitigations, to the inclusion of public art.

The Detroit CBO has now been in effect for a year and a half, yet many in the community are concerned that the ordinance has not strengthened community development process. We are seeking to assess what, if any, social, economic and environmental benefits have ensued from Detroit’s CBO (Proposal B). We will do so by comparing large-scale development projects, two from before and two from after the passage of Detroit’s CBO and analyzing what, if any, benefits have resulted from each. We aim to interview all relevant stakeholders in these processes including community members, developers, planners, and council members. This project will specifically address the community impact of development projects through focus groups of community members, complimenting the corresponding Dow Masters Team 8 project which focuses on stakeholder interviews. Objectives of the project would include a compilation of “lessons learned” and recommendations from the CBO process and outcomes in Detroit to provide a guide to other communities seeking to undergo this process.

Energy Equity & Community-Specific Solutions in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Specific sustainability topic(s) addressed: Energy access, security, sustainability, solar, and resiliency; community engagement; policy; finance; law; Keweenaw Bay Indian Community; public health

Project Description:

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a quiet, rural area where you can escape the busyness of urban cities. Population density is low in the Upper Peninsula (UP), making energy transmission costs high and causing electricity rates to be among the highest in the United States. In Baraga, 33.2% of residents live below the poverty line, and a reduction in electricity rates would make a significant difference to them. A University of Michigan (U-M) Dow Fellows student team developed a community-based approach to determine needs in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The team focused efforts on affordable renewable energy for rural communities, including solar energy. The project engaged partners and community members to understand their needs, identify areas for improvement, and develop a robust solution that will incorporate different critical dimensions associated with projects (legal, health, environmental, policy, technical). Within the Village of Baraga, 62% of the population are members of Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

Based on the results of a cost/benefits analysis conducted by the student team, they then created three different digital dashboards to allow WUPPDR to gauge the feasibility of community solar programs in the region, assist WPPI with analysis of the proposed Baraga community solar project, and help customers understand the impact of their participation on their households, including the estimated costs and returns. Two of the three dashboards include a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Solar Array, which captures the net present value of the system; and the Aggregate Community Impact of Solar Array dashboard, which shows the net current value of the combined community impact of the system. The third dashboard was created specifically for community members to better understand their buy-in options and the potential energy savings with community solar.

Project Location: Village of Baraga, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Project Team:

  • Kevin Dunn, College of Engineering
  • Krutarth Jhaveri, College of Engineering and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS)
  • Lauryn Lin, School of Public Health
  • Julie Michalski, School of Law
  • Benjamin Rego, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and SEAS
  • Faculty Advisor: Professor Margaret Wooldridge, College of Engineering

Project Partners:


Making the Case for Renewable Energy in Traverse City

Project Description

Traverse City recently committed to sourcing 100% of the energy used for city operations from renewable sources by 2020. To help reach this goal, the Groundwork Center is participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar in Your Community Challenge to create a model for harnessing the revenue from large, local, utility-scale solar projects. Through this project, the Traverse City Rural Independence through Solar Energy project, the Groundwork Center and its partners hope to create a series of solar and efficiency success stories that taken together will help rural and urban communities improve their homes, create jobs, and save residents money.

The Groundwork Center has identified several ongoing projects in the Traverse City area that would be good candidates for developing and using a community-benefit model. 5MW of renewable energy are needed to meet Traverse City’s goal of running all city operations using renewable energy.  To move renewable energy efforts forward, the team identified a needs for developing a business case and plan to demonstrate the benefits to the community.

The Dow Sustainability Fellows team worked with the Groundwork Center to identify a business plan and models for community engagement for Traverse City. The team ensured that efforts were community-driven and recommended that the benefits be inclusive to low and middle-income residents. They also developed a model that can be replicated in other communities in the nation.


  • Develop an understanding of the regulatory, utility, developer, and other relevant stakeholder landscape as it relates to renewables development in Michigan
  • Identify and evaluate case studies of community benefit models from other renewable energy projects, and make recommendations for which models could work in the greater Traverse City area
  • Review literature on community engagement strategies and make recommendations on effective ways to involve the community in this project
  • Develop a business plan for installing an additional 4mw of renewable energy in the greater Traverse City area, including the potential dollar amount to be allocated for community benefits
  • Develop a community engagement matrix outlining the pros and cons of various strategies the Groundwork Center could consider adopting

2019 Project Report — Beyond Renewable: Incorporating Social Sustainability & Community Benefits

Project Partner:

Project Team:

  • Elana Fox, Ross School of Business and School for Environment and Sustainability

  • Emily Futcher, Ross School of Business and Ford School of Public Policy

  • Augusta Gudeman, Ford School of Public Policy and Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning

  • Monika Johnson, Ross School of Business and School for Environment and Sustainability

  • Advisor: Sarah Mills, Ph.D., U-M Ford School of Public Policy

Recovering Detroit's Tree Canopy

Team Number 1

(Also Distinguished Award)

Sustainability Topics Addressed: Infrastructure, Water Quality, Community Building

Prof. Larsen has completed the first phase of a project that maps the impediments to implementing green infrastructure in the City of Detroit, but has not been able to find the time nor resources to put that plan into action. Our intent is to collaborate with Oday Salim (Great Lakes Environmental Law Center ), Prof. Larsen, and CAPHE to create a neighborhood-based action agenda for overcoming impediments to implementing green infrastructure in the city of Detroit.


According to American Forests, Detroit land cover in 2006 was composed of 31% tree canopy cover compared to 47% of impervious surface. By 2009, tree canopy cover decreased by 0.7%. The loss of trees in major cities is similar across the nation.1 The loss of services provided by trees, significantly impact stormwater, urban heat island effect, and air quality.2 While Detroit residents face threats of air pollution from multiple sources such as freeways, international bridges, incinerators, and other industrial sites, trees offer a mitigation strategy.1 Studies have provide conservative estimates of human health values of urban trees, valued at $4.6 billion dollars in 2010 across US cities.1 However, despite efforts to begin planting trees in Detroit, outdated state and local ordinances often inhibit trees planting and other vegetative buffers.

PROJECT SCOPE: Our project will create a package of legal and local tools necessary to recover the crucial benefit trees provide urban residents of Detroit. These tools will provide City Council with a clear vision and quantification for how Detroit neighborhoods will benefit under the proposal, while providing community based organizations the critical platform to connect with one another and build consensus moving forward in creating a more livable Detroit. The project will take a three-pronged approach to produce:

  1. Three ordinance proposals for Detroit City Council to adopt that promote progressive action for tree canopy conservation and recovery in Detroit.
  2. Two Detroit neighborhood case studies including: detailed tree planting plans, cost-benefit analyses, health benefits (monetized), visual renderings of canopy recovery.
  3. An interactive online directory of Detroit community based organizations actively engaged in urban canopy recovery related activities
Waste Watchers - E-Waste

Team 5

(Also Distinguished Award)

Our project is focusing on the growing problem of electronic waste (“e-waste”). E-waste refers most commonly to old or broken consumer electronics, such as computers, printers, etc. Ideally, e-waste should be recycled within the United States at registered facilities. Recent research has shown, however, that a great deal of e-waste is either thrown out or shipped to developing countries, where the electronics are recycled in hazardous working environments with little protections given to the workers. This impacts both the sustainability of products within the U.S. (due to the large amount of electronics that end up in landfills) and internationally (with exposure to toxics). Many local organizations that are engaged in e-waste recycling, or wish to become involved in e-waste recycling, are aware of these problems and looking for a solution.

For our project, we wish to investigate what happens to e-waste in Ann Arbor or possibly Detroit. We currently are proposing to approach this problem several different ways. First, we are looking into the possibility of conducting community surveys to gain information on people’s attitudes, knowledge and behavior with respect to e-waste (recycling versus landfilling) as well as where consumers think their e-waste is going (as opposed to where it is actually going). We are also looking into the possibility of installing GPS trackers on some e-waste and seeing where e-waste recycled in Ann Arbor actually goes. Finally, we wish to conduct some background research and to prepare a report giving suggestions on how to improve e-waste recycling in the area.

Approaches​ ​to​ ​Neighborhood-Led​ ​Green​ ​Infrastructure​ ​in​ ​Detroit
Assessing Mechanisms to Expand Composting in Ann Arbor
Flexbus: Improving public transit with ride-hailing technology