With property values at record lows and vacant abandoned infrastructure all around, Detroit has started to capture the imagination of a generation of young adults flocking to the Motor City with the intent of building a new vision of the city in the 21st century. Among those are participants in the Green Economy Leadership Training  (GELT) program.

For those unfamiliar with GELT, watch this video from 2010. This chick rocks!!!

Now here we are in 2012. 100 years ago Detroit was on the cutting edge of the industrial revolution, and was one of the most important cities in the world.  Flash forward to 2011, Detroit is once again one of the most important cities in the world as a microcosm of a broken economy that is quickly leaving behind the working class and a growing disparity between rich and poor.

In newspapers and on TV, Detroit is depicted as the most dangerous city in America, backed by recent reports showing the highest murder rates in the country.  Journalists have come from all over the world to document the decay, creating a new class of journalism labeled, “ruin porn.”

But underneath the stories the media portrays and the pictures many journalists project, a new generation of Detroit is rising. Artists, activists, organizers and entrepreneurs from all walks of life are descending on the city to take advantage of the wide open spaces, massive abandoned factories and warehouses and projecting a new vision for the 21st century American city.

The Green Economy Leadership Training program is on the forefront of this movement.  The 2011 GELT program wrapped up last August, completing its second year of transformative action in Highland Park, Michigan, in the shadows of Henry Ford’s iconic Model T plant, the first automobile industrial assembly plant.

Over 25 people participated in the 2011 GELT, ranging from grandmothers born and raised in Detroit, to high school students from local schools, to college students and recent grads from all over the country.

Participants went through over 250 hours of trainings in urban agriculture, solar energy, energy efficiency, entrepreneurship and community wealth building.  In addition to the trainings, participants spent most of their time this summer working in one of four project areas: solar energy, urban agriculture, waste manufacturing and deconstruction.

Participants in these projects took the lead on installing solar panels, building a 4-season greenhouse, remodeling an abandoned house and building a playground out of recycled tires for the neighborhood kids.  Participants also received certifications in permaculture and the “NAPCEP” entry level solar photovoltaic.

So what’s next? GELT 2012, of course, and YOU are invited to apply!
We encourage you, or anyone you know, to apply for the third Green Economy Leadership Training from June 11-August 18, 2012.

Want to participate in community-led projects focused on developing local green economy resources? Interested in learning to organize social entrepreneurship ventures? Between the ages of 18 and 99? Want to spend the summer in Highland Park, MI and meet like-minded people from across the country working for social justice while working with the local community? Then apply to GELT today!

To apply for GELT 2012, click here. Application deadline: April 10th

If you cannot attend, you can still support the GELT project and sponsor a GELT summer fellow. Consider making a special gift today.

Watch the GELT video “We Will Carry the Fire”:

While some people look at Detroit and see problems, we see there is no better place to start building a new economy than in Detroit.

In 2010, Global Exchange’s Michigan team had an idea: create a training program in Detroit to rebuild a resilient community and economy by teaching skills of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and urban agriculture.

What started out as a 5 participant experiment, turned into a full fledged annual project called Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT).

The GELT house in Highland Park, Michigan

The project, based just outside of Detroit in Highland Park, trains youth and community members in practical skills to empower them to improve their communities through energy conservation, renewable energy, green building technology, water conservation, waste diversion (recycling and composting), urban agriculture and food security and urban forestry. The project does all of this through an environmental justice lens.

We are putting out an open invitation to the whole country to join us for the third Green Economy Leadership Training from June 11-August 18.

You, or anyone you know, can apply.

Inside the GELT greenhouse

Want to participate in community-led projects focused on developing local green economy resources? Interested in learning to organize social entrepreneurship ventures? Between the ages of 18 and 99? Want to spend the summer in Highland Park, MI and meet like-minded people from across the country working for social justice while working with the local community? Then apply to GELT today.

To learn more about the GELT project or to apply for GELT 2012, click here.

If you cannot attend, you can still support the GELT project and sponsor a GELT summer fellow. Make a special gift today.

The time to join is now.

Detroit: Green Economy Leadership Training in action

Signs of hope continue to sprout in Detroit. For many of us working on the revitalization of Detroit, 2012 may prove to be the year when the tide finally shifts towards a rebirth of our great city.  Some consider this a bottoming out after over a decade of massive manufacturing job losses to the tune of 200,000 jobs lost since the year 2000 and eye-opening population loss.

For many in Detroit, it doesn’t seem like the situation can get much worse.  We are far removed from Detroit’s heyday when it was considered a bustling leader in organized labor and fair wages for workers.

Those of us still in Detroit have become a battle-tested and resilient bunch, and the skills that we have acquired through so much chaos and uncertainty could prove useful to the rest of the country, a country entrenched in a long-term recession and high unemployment rates.

Consciousness of large scale economic and environmental problems came to national attention last year as the Occupy Wall Street movement swept the nation. Time magazine even named The Protestor the 2011 Person of the Year.

Those same problems are under a microscope here in Detroit, where we started feeling the financial fallout many years before other parts of the country.  In Detroit, it has been the norm to have corporations turn their backs on the people and the government ill-equipped and unwilling to respond to the massive problems plaguing the area.

2012 shouldn’t just be the year of large protests. We need a system change. As we’ve been saying here at Global Exchange, “Our 2012 resolution is global revolution!” We need new rules, skills and frameworks to take our movement to the next level.  Together, 2012 can be the year that we truly change the rules to create a world that champions people power not corporate power.  What better place to put these words into action than in Detroit?  This is where the economic fallout started, and this will be the place where the strategies for a new world can be tested.

Detroit: Green Economy Leadership Training activities. Photo courtesy of Samantha Frick

At Global Exchange we’re helping to transition Detroit into a beacon of community organizing power. Over the past two years our summer Green Economy Leadership Training program has been working in the Highland Park community and has trained over 50 people in intensive skills trainings and projects that are helping move a new vision of Detroit’s economy forward.

We have worked side by side with community members to assemble urban farms and 4-seasons greenhouses, weatherize homes and develop community solar projects and create K-12 education programs that are transitioning Detroit to a self-reliant, post-industrial future.  In 2012, we are continuing to build a new economy in Detroit, reaching one person at a time and working deeply within our community.

As we develop the skills for the new economy we also need to look towards putting the political power truly back in the hands of the people.  Detroit has been the victim of corporate greed for too long.  Communities like Detroit can benefit in a huge way by establishing community rights of their own. Our Community Rights Program is organizing across the country and around the world to pass revolutionary laws that strip corporate protections and assert the rights of communities to decide for themselves what happens where they live, and at the same time to recognize the rights of nature.


Apply to Green Economy Leadership Training: Be on the look out for an announcement to apply to our Green Economy Leadership Training in the next month. The application will be online, along with program information;

Attend Speaking Event: If you are in Michigan, I’ll be speaking this Thursday, 1/19, at Michigan State University in the Erikson Kiva @ 7:30 p.m.  The topic is Urban Green Strategies – How Detroit is Leading the 21st Century Sustainability Revolution?Rsvp here.

The GELT house in Highland Park, Michigan

It’s important to venture outside of our comfort zones once in a while to see what the world has to offer away from home. I was grateful for this chance when I traveled far from Global Exchange headquarters in sunny San Francisco to chilly Highland Park, Michigan last month.

My trip was centered on an Open House party that the Global Exchange midwest region Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) program staff held in Highland Park to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments over the last two years.

GELT is an initiative of Global Exchange that educates, engages and empowers both youth and adults to be active agents of change in building the necessary clean energy, green economy future. The program trains youth and community members in practical skills that will empower them to improve their communities, such as environmental justice, energy conservation, renewable energy, green building technology, water conservation, waste diversion (recycling and composting), urban agriculture and food security and urban forestry.

GELT living room

I attended the GELT party not only as a representative from Global Exchange headquarters but also as a curious observer eager to see for myself what I had only learned about in blogs and news pieces.

I won’t go into great detail about the deep and complex history of Detroit and Highland Park (you can read more about the city’s rise and fall over the last several decades here). Instead I’ll share some of what’s happening in Highland Park now and the vision folks I met in Detroit have for their tomorrow.

Driving into the small city of Highland Park at night (which is literally a city within a city entirely surrounded by Detroit), I passed by the massive vacant former Ford factory and countless abandoned homes – many of them burned and crumbling. It was particularly dark it was on the side streets. I learned later that the city of Highland Park recently removed the majority of city streetlamps to cut electricity costs. This is one of many examples of the lingering effects of a diminishing economy and a case in point for building up the green economy which Global Exchange is working towards in the area.

GELT headquarters and house in Highland Park

My trip began with a tour of GELT headquarters in Highland Park – a formerly dilapidated mansion built in the early 1900s, which now serves as place for green learning and home to several of the staff of the Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) program (http://www.globalexchange.org/programs/greeneconomy). The staff worked day and night for weeks to renovate the massive house – now divided into four separate apartment units – in advance of the Open House. The space was glorious and proof that any of the countless old deserted buildings in the area could be turned into a haven for sustainable living and community.

Inside the GELT greenhouse

A few green features of the GELT home:

  • A grey water system installed in one of the bathrooms, which uses recycled water from the sink to power the toilet;
  • The team weatherized windows and doors to keep the heat inside during the cold months;
  • A mammoth greenhouse constructed behind the house this past summer and now has food growing in it year-round. It’s also used as a classroom twice a week for a group of 6th graders from an elementary school across the street who seem hungry to learn about the environment in a fun and educational way. I was lucky enough to witness a Northpointe Academy school assembly during my visit, where animated 6th grade students shared some of their GELT experiences with their entire school of fellow students.

With these green projects under their belt, GELT staffers have countless other big and small plans for the house to become an example of sustainable living and intentional community in Highland Park.

6th grade class at Northpointe Elementary presenting their work with GELT to the rest of the school at an assembly

The highlight of my trip was witnessing the energy and power in the room during the Open House party. Dozens of people gathered together at the GELT headquarters before shifting to the school auditorium to hear presentations by community leaders and staff members about the program successes.

Attendees included Highland Park residents and neighbors, representatives from community organizations, pastors, teachers, elementary school and college students who participated in GELT 9-week summer trainings, and passionate parents and kids. Even the Highland Park Mayor Elect’s mom was there! The excitement about this movement was palpable.

Pastor Bullock addressing the GELT community

We were all inspired by the opening words of Pastor David Bullock – a famous Highland Park leader and partner of the GELT program – who equated the efforts of GELT to bringing Highland Park out of the ashes. Pastor Bullock along with a passionate teacher, a committed 6th grader, and Brandon Knight and Scott Meloeny (the visionaries behind the program) shared stories of the program’s successes over the past two years, and their dreams and plans for the program in the future.

Thanks to all of the Global Exchange and GELT staff in Michigan who made this incredible event – and this valuable program – possible. I left Michigan looking at the world in a new and improved light.




Written by our partners at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance:

Jordan Eizenga is framed by the house's metal structure

A barn-raising in the heart of Detroit? That’s certainly what it felt like as activists from across the region gathered in Highland Park on Sunday, June 26, to construct a 2000-square-foot hoop house from plastic sheeting and metal tubes.

This solar-powered greenhouse can grow food year-round—even in Michigan winters. Armed with the right equipment, it doesn’t take more than a day to construct one. As UniverCities Energy Data Intern Jordan Eizenga and other Suburbs Alliance staff found, it does take a number of willing hands.

Jordan (not to be confused with Energy Policy Intern Jordan G.) found lending his hands easy enough. He moved to Ferndale this summer to be near the Suburbs Alliance main office, and biked the few short miles along Woodward Avenue from Ferndale to help build the house. The site was behind the Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) house near Woodward and McNichols. A branch of a national youth network organizing for solutions to global climate change, GELT seeks to give young people a holistic understanding of the transition to a sustainable, community-scaled economy through neighborhood projects like the hoop house.

Things heat up in the hoop house's interior

By late morning, most of the metal hoops that formed the hoop house’s structure were already in place, and the lot was a hive of activity. Builders included master hoop-house mechanic Jeff McCabe, co-founder of Ann Arbor’s SELMA Café, Margaret Lewis, publisher of the Highland Park-based Legacy News, and scores of others from the block, the neighborhood and the greater region. Now that’s metropolitan cooperation in action!

The plastic sheeting has been hauled into place

While at rest, the group traded farming tips and enjoyed impromptu rapping from the youngest attendees.

“Billow it!” As the sun sank lower, the team gathered on either side of the curving metal frame to push and pull the plastic walls of the house into place, sending ripples through the giant sheets to carry them over the top. Slowly, under the careful hands of Jordan and two dozen others, the double sheets slid down to meet the wooden frame near the ground. What had been empty space open to the elements at dawn became a warmer interior where plants will grow come winter.

Collective celebration with the help of a timpani

There’s much more to be done before the hoop house produces its first crops. For Jordan and the other six Suburbs Alliance staff on hand, though, the day was an inspiring confirmation that people from all over the area can come together to build a healthier, greener and tastier future.

Working cooperatively, the group built in one day what a single person couldn’t have constructed alone. Metro Detroit needs to bring that lesson to a regional scale: we’re stronger together.

The following post was written by Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. (Green Economy Leadership Training) program participant Kate Powers:

Today, Matt, Lauren, Mike, Dan (a resourceful new addition to the program), and I went over to Grove Street determined to gut the whole house. Our biggest challenge: the feces-covered basement. It was decided that since we were in this together, we would all work on the basement together. All five of us, armed with our shovels, attacked the basement full force. Once we completely scraped up the floor, Mike, Matt, and Dan began disassembling the musty couch and moving the washing machine and other large items upstairs while Lauren and I swept up the dirt and threw away all the trash. The task of cleaning the basement seemed difficult but it took us less than an hour to complete. It’s true when they say many hands make light work.

Next, we tackled the second floor. The group cleaned out the back room, swept, and ripped up the remaining carpets. In a relatively short time we got a great amount accomplished. As inspiring and enriching the G.E.L.T. workshops and lectures are, the physical gratification that comes along with the Operation We Squat group project is unmatched. We had a sense of accomplishment driving back from Grove Street. Having the house gutted was a morale boost… However, there is still much to be done.

The top three issues that need to be addressed are as follow:
1)   Replace foundational support beam in the basement
2)   Repair roof
3)   Plumbing/Bathtub

Making the house functional is an intimidating task, but in the face of this challenge I just think about how daunting of a task gutting out the house was and how we were able to accomplish it. All we can do is face each challenge as it comes while supporting one another and the community.

Until next time,

Written by GELT Participant – Dan Tompkins

It was an afternoon in summer. Me, this guy James, and a girl named Marion walked down the middle of the road. We were in a rough area. It’s called Highland Park.

The three of us were working with GELT, a project of Global Exchange, an international human rights organization based in San Francisco that focuses on social, environmental and human rights. In Detroit, Global Exchange wanted to take local action to get some energy efficiency to houses that needed it most. The GELT project had local headquarters just down the street. (more…)

GELT participants striking peaceful poses

The following post was written by Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. (Green Economy Leadership Training) program participant Kate Powers:

Ready for community input, O.W.S. (Operation We Squat) canvassed earlier today. Our original vision for the home on Grove Street was to create a community space for Highland Park, potentially a youth center or library. We were very focused on the specifics of the house rather than the basic, functional elements and what the community really needed. As a result, canvassing was a major reality check.
We received three kinds of responses:
  1. Negative. The first house Marion and I approached consisted of a woman who was skeptical and, frankly, very angry with the G.E.L.T. program. She said that last year GELTers went around Grove Street making promises to the community that were not fulfilled. She felt like outsiders invaded Grove Street with lofty goals but left once the summer was over with none of the goals met. She made it obvious that some people on Grove felt betrayed by the G.E.L.T. program. Many of these “broken promises” were due to miscommunications between the program and the community last year but that doesn’t change the fact that there are trust issues present between G.E.L.T. and Grove Street that need to be addressed.
  2. Apathetic. Other people we talked to said they didn’t care what was done to the house as long as the yard was taken care of. They were more worried about the potholes and lack of streetlights than the renovation of 76 Grove Street.
  3. Positive. Some people supported our efforts. Families with small children were responsive to the idea of having some kind of youth center where kids can go after school. Other community members liked the idea of having a garden in the back where the food grown can be distributed to people who tend to the garden. One community member in particular was a great advocate for our cause, Ms. Walker. Now she even has a date with Mike to go to the city council meeting on Monday and is going to go to church with Lauren one upcoming Sunday. Ms. Walker cares about the Grove Street community and wants to see it prosper.
As a result of our canvassing, we have determined three issues that need to be addressed on Grove Street:
  1. Trust. The outside of the house is a very important part of its transformation as many people in the community will not believe or support us until prominent physical change has occurred. Keeping our promise to renovate 76 Grove Street is very important in building our trust with the community.
  2. Security. Multiple community members have told us that the house is not safe to leave alone overnight. Squatters can easily take over or illegal activity can occur. Therefore, we plan to definitely have a residency aspect integrated into our renovation plans.
  3. Community. We are starting to realize that simply creating a youth center or library on Grove Street does not make it a community. We can help the area more by fixing up the home and renting it to people who care about Grove Street and Highland Park. We do want some community aspect involve with the home, so we have been playing around with the idea of forming a garden in the backyard where fresh produce can be distributed to community members who tend to the garden.
After the canvass, Mike made a good point that maybe we had misunderstood where the value of the project should be placed. In the words of Marion, our idealist bubble had been popped. We still believe in this project but we have to take it one step at a time. To achieve our goals, we must rebuild the broken relationships between G.E.L.T. and Grove Street by following through with our promises.
Until next time!

The following post was written by Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. (Green Economy Leadership Training) program participant Kate Powers:

I am working with several other participants on a project that is part of Global Exchange’s G.E.L.T. program called Operation We Squat.

Our project is one of four G.E.L.T. group projects taking place over the course of nine weeks, the others focusing on solar energy, urban agriculture and waste repurposing, respectively.

G.E.L.T. aims to build a new, clean energy economy in Highland Park through education, training, and community participation. Major aspects of G.E.L.T. include permaculture, renewable energy, and infrastructure redevelopment. This program centers around improving people’s lives by creating a healthy economic and social community in Highland Park by using a sustainable model that can be repeated in other cities around the country.

Operation We Squat plans to address a major problem in post-industrial cities– abandoned, rundown houses. The usual response to this problem is demolition of the residence, dumping the materials into landfills. This process is energy-demanding and labor insensitive while preventing community advancement and adding little long-term value to the city. O.W.S. wants to demonstrate an alternative solution to abandoned homes in urban areas. The project plans to find the most effective ways to transform neglected houses into beneficial, sustainable representations of community.

The time frame of this project is June 7th to August 7th. The house: 76 Grove Street. The GELTers involved are Lauren, Matt, Mike, and myself (Kate). The team leads are Marion and Scott.

On Thursday, the group assembled and visited 76 Grove Street, for most of us it was our first time. Overgrown grass and weeds engulfed the yard while trash and broken glass filled the alleyway. Inside was not much better, the first floor consisted of discarded furniture and boarded up windows. After viewing the basement and the second floor it was evident that previous squatters had allowed their pet(s) to run wild.

For me, the most disheartening part of the house was not the dirt and grim or the broken windows and furniture, it was the deserted, child-made mother’s day card and the baby furniture and bottles left behind. The house was not completely vacated but rather it was almost as if, in the words of Marion, a hurricane came through destroying the inside of the home, taking the residents with it, but leaving traces of the family’s life. Lauren even found a film strip containing family photos– the family members that once lived in the house are now like ghosts, their abandoned possessions just glimpses of their past lives.

A few first impressions from the group are as follow:

  • Marion- Transformation through community and group cooperation
  • Matt- 76 Grove has a lot of potential
  • Mike- Great importance in having the home be a “community space with function”
  • As a group we decided that the first step of our project would be to cut the grass and have a bulk clean-up/trash pick-up as well as engage the community in some ways to include their input in the project.

Group Roles are as follow:

  • Marion: Timeline/Vision/Oversee
  • Scott: Resources/Oversee
  • Lauren: Community outreach
  • Mike: Find sources of inspiration/Similar models in the area
  • Matt: Internal workings of the house
  • Kate: Front and back yard/Story creation

If all goes as planned Operation We Squat will improve the lives and environment of Grove Street community members. However, in order for this project to have more than just an isolated impact on Grove Street, the steps taken must be repeatable and act as a model for the greater Detroit area, Michigan, and other parts of the United States. So as things progress, I’ll blog again about this project and the steps we’re taking to transform an abandoned house into something that can strengthen a community and create more sustainable systems within a city. Who knows, maybe sharing our story will aid others involved in similar conquests.

Until next time,

Written by Cory Connolly, aka, “the Finisher”

Why is it that the green economy, in many ways, remains intangible? Why must those who are passionate about people and the environment choose between doing what they want and between living comfortably? What does a green economy look like in the country’s most devastated communities?