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Mexico City is in a water crisis due to frequent flooding from increasingly intense storms during the rainy season. This water crisis poses imminent health, economic, and cultural consequences for the residents of this region. A Dow Fellows student team participated in a stakeholder mapping project in partnership with their client, Isla Urbana, a social enterprise in Mexico City dedicated to water sustainability through rainwater harvesting, to capture perspectives of those impacted by the City’s water crisis. The team finalized a sustainability strategy for Mexico City’s water sector that Isla Urbana will use to advise the Secretary of Environment. 

  • Project Location: Mexico City, Mexico
  • Project Advisor: Glen Daigger
  • Project Team: Ellen Abrams, Ross School of Business and School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS); Ernesto Martinez Paz, College of Engineering; Emily Pfleiderer, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and SEAS; Rachel Gutfreund, School of Medicine

In order to build a more sustainable and socially-just community, decisions regarding urban planning should engage diverse stakeholders. Working with the Eastside Community Network, a non-profit community development organization, a Dow Fellows student team co-designed a green infrastructure plan with community members along the Mack Avenue Business District. The team is utilizing, a three-dimensional urban design visualization software tool, to aid in designing community green space. The project focuses on empowering the community members through a series of workshops to learn how to use the visualization tool and co-design community space. They hope to use the software to provide a common language for collaborative designing and decision-making and hope the software can be expanded for use in other cases. 

  • Project Location: Detroit, MI

  • Project Advisor: Mark Lindquist

  • Project Team: Kidus Admassu, College of Engineering; Ayush Awadhiya, Ross School of Business; Gwen Gell, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Saebom (April) Kwon, School of Information; Shannon Sylte, School for Environment and Sustainability

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. 

Enter the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region (WUPPDR), a local government organization that provides general planning and support for six western counties in the UP. Community leaders in Baraga and L’Anse areas of the UP view community solar as a solution to the cost and reliability issues surrounding electricity in the Keweenaw Bay region by bringing generation facilities closer to home. Community solar may help residents mitigate high prices and help neighboring communities toward self-sufficiency with their energy needs. To assist in determining the feasibility of community solar in Baraga, MI, a University of Michigan (U-M) Dow Sustainability Fellows team conducted a cost-benefit analysis in 2018. Based on this analysis, the team developed several interactive dashboards to aid the community. This cost-benefit analysis was a requirement of grant funding through WPPI Energy, a not-for-profit, regional power company serving 51 locally-owned electric utilities.  

College tuition rates are increasing every year, forcing many students to take out student loans. Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) is something every college student fills out, but not many truly understand how the process of student loan borrowing works. Michigan student loan default rates are higher than the national average, and women, especially women of color, are disproportionately affected by student debt. With a $5,000 seed grant from the Dow Distinguished Awards competition, a University of Michigan (U-M) student team is co-designing a solution with students to meet their loan literacy needs. 

Dow Distinguished Awards 2018 Factsheet

Dow Distinguished Award for Interdisciplinary Sustainability
Open to any U-M Ann Arbor undergraduate or graduate student interested in pursuing innovative solutions to affordable housing, access to healthy food, renewable energy, and more. 

Dow Masters 2018 Factsheet

Supports graduate scholars pursuing a Master's or Professional degree who are committed to finding sustainable solutions and prepares them to be global sustainability leaders.

Supports doctoral scholars developing and implementing innovative sustainability ideas and becoming leaders in academia, business, government and non-governmental organizations.

Getting around without a car isn’t easy in many U.S. cities. People who rely on public transit often contend with many challenges, including decaying infrastructure, not having easy access to a transit stop, lack of system reliability, restrictions to how late or early a system operates, and often a lack of support to fund transit improvements. These difficulties can impact people in many ways, including their ability to access essential healthcare, jobs, and grocery stores. Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft can pick up the slack from inadequate public transit, but they also present challenges, like being inaccessible to people with disabilities; lacking the incentive to work along unpopular routes; creating more emissions per mile traveled; and siphoning riders (and money) from public transit. One solution to these challenges is for transit agencies to enter into public-private partnerships with ride-hailing companies to expand public transit coverage.

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) partnered with a University of Michigan Dow Sustainability Fellows team to explore the potential for a public-private partnership that could supplement and enhance the current public transit system in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The team researched the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of different ride-hailing public-private partnership models to determine which model could best be used to cover under-used bus routes and connect riders to transit stops.

São Paulo, Brazil, is a booming city. Growing, thriving, and leaving far too many people behind in the process. According to the Washington Post, a 2013 government survey found Brazil is short over 6 million housing units, a shortage demonstrated in São Paulo. A solution many urban residents consider is joining a land occupation, or “Ocupação” in Portuguese. These are settlements organized on land owned by someone other than the inhabitants. 

Ocupação Anchieta started four years ago in Grajaú, a city district on the southern periphery of São Paulo, on land owned by the nonprofit organization Instituto Anchieta Grajaú (IAG). Over 800 families now live on the land, negatively impacting the Mata Atlantica forest and natural springs on the site. Currently, AIG and the residents are collaborating on a solution that balances a right to safe housing with environmental health. As part of this ongoing process, an interdisciplinary team of University of Michigan (U-M) students and faculty is working with residents, IAG, and local architectural and engineering firms to create an environmentally and socially sustainable community.

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The concept of energy democracy is for people and communities to have control of their energy supply, like choosing whether it comes from fossil fuels or renewables, infrastructure considerations, and other options. Energy democracy focuses on poor and working class people of color, often most impacted by energy purchase decisions. In the case of Highland Park, the city has a majority African-American and Black population, with nearly half of residents living below the poverty line. Approximately 40% of the population reported difficulty in paying their energy bills, and multiple people reported illegal shut-offs, all of which suggest a high and possibly unjust energy burden on the population. These were some of the findings from the community survey on which Soulardarity and the Dow Fellows team collaborated.

Keywords: Energy democracy, Community Solar Calculator, Community Solar Power, Highland Park