US: Model Community Climate Mitigation Programs

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids is a rapidly growing mid-sized city of about 200,000 people that acts as a central hub for ongoing social justice and political movements in West Michigan; probably one of the biggest items on the city’s agenda is addressing climate change. The city has recently become involved in the climate justice movement, but that does not take away from its precedent to make effective change. Efforts to address climate change and awareness of this issue are diverse and constantly growing. Grand Rapids provides a good model for a midsized community as it demonstrates how, with a limited amount of people involved, significant changes are still happening on a grand scale.

This is best shown in Grand Rapids’ Office of Sustainability (OOS), which was introduced in 2005 to address drastically changing weather patterns in the region. Although small, the Office of Sustainability is mighty, currently employing a three-person female team.

The OOS was originally established and focused on the environment, community and economy. However, ongoing efforts indicated a need to focus more on another pillar: governmental accountability. In 2019, the city created a new Strategic Plan to address climate change occurrences, including community input. In 2021, city commissioners declared that Climate Change was a crisis in Grand Rapids. The city has conducted a community-driven survey for the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, or CAAP. Focus Areas in the city’s current Strategic Plan include transportation, creating green jobs, energy and carbon emissions, and waste and recycling efforts. Additional focus areas, including focusing on expanding urban forestry and adapting to people coming to the city due to climate migration, have been added to the CAAP survey and are meant to address current concerns from citizens so that the city can execute an updated, practical planning phase as the climate crisis continues to worsen.

Joining forces with the OOS are efforts by other organizations such as the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Grand Rapids Climate Coalition, the US Green Building Council, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, and the Community Collaboration on Climate Change, otherwise known as C4. C4 is one of the most dynamic groups of people to have cropped up in recent years in Grand Rapids’ environmental scene. Driven by several concerned citizens, the C4 group is a grassroots effort to create a space for climate justice and let citizens from marginalized communities, such as the BIPOC and disabled communities, establish a presence in current city sustainability activity. The group has hired twelve regular citizens called C4 Ambassadors and has awarded each a $5000 mini-grant to establish a sustainability initiative project within city limits. Some of the current C4 projects that are underway include a pocket forest on an inner-city church’s lawn, a native plant garden on the property of an affordable housing cooperative community, and a compost site at a Grand Rapids elementary school. The C4 leadership team recently joined forces with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to attain $5 million in funding for planting 15,000 trees over the next five years to combat climate change and aim for a goal of 40% canopy cover.

Recently, a company based out of Detroit called JustAir partnered with the city to set up air quality monitors within city limits to help measure emissions activity. This project was established to monitor and record differences between inner-city neighborhoods that are historically marginalized and other areas of the city; one particular area of focus is the 49507 zip code on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood. The project aims to provide citizens with air quality data, which will inform policymakers on what can be done to target and mitigate emissions in the city.

As more funding comes down the pipeline from the Inflation Reduction Act, environmental projects within the city of Grand Rapids continue to prepare the city for the brunt of Mother Nature’s forces. The combined efforts of citizens, policymakers, government, and nonprofit entities help create a thriving community that can be prepared for future severe weather events and an influx of people migrating to the area due to climate change. As we realize that the community’s future is in the hands of what we do now, Grand Rapids will continue to prosper with careful planning and preparation, providing an inherited hope and love for the Earth in future generations.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard US Country Manager Abby Carlson.


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