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Issues of the Environment: Ann Arbor investing $1 million EPA grant to further community resiliency

City of Ann Arbor sustainability and innovations manager Missy Stults
City of Ann Arbor
City of Ann Arbor sustainability and innovations manager Missy Stults


  • Ann Arbor’s Office of Sustainability and Innovations (OSI) sees resilience as “the ability to bounce forward, not backwards.” This definition acknowledges that the world is continually changing in many ways: climate change, social justice, economics, and more. As such, bouncing back is not sufficient. Instead, we must build the ability of our residents, neighborhoods, ecosystems, and processes to bounce forward and remain flexible.” Resilience is one of the seven core strategies outlined in the A2ZERO Carbon Neutrality Plan.  (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/departments/sustainability/Adaptation-Resilience/Pages/default.aspx)
  • Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor have an excellent track record for applying for and being granted funds to make the region more sustainable and climate change resilient. The City of Ann Arbor Office of Sustainability and Innovations, in partnership with the Ann Arbor Office of Emergency Management, was awarded a $1,000,000 grant from the United Stated Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) program last year. OSI and OEM recently submitted a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilience Infrastructure and Communities opportunity to fund a microgrid between Veterans Memorial Park and Fire Station 3. The designed microgrid would provide 3 days of uninterrupted power for these two critical facilities by leaning into a series of on-site solar energy systems, battery storage systems, a shared geothermal system, vehicle to grid and grid to vehicle electric vehicle chargers, and a backup diesel generator. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.a2gov.org/news/Pages/article.aspx?i=1008)
  • Ann Arbor’s Pollinator Aware Yard Care program has also expanded upon “No Mow May” into promoting pollinator education about the nectar and habitat needs of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators for a resilient food supply and enriched natural environment. 
  • Locally called “Treetown”, Ann Arbor is also offering a Free Tree Giveaway Program, offering tree seeding at no cost to plant on private property. 10,000 trees are available and distributed for pickup at certain events, and those with mobility or access challenges will also be accommodated. 
  • The city also recently purchased a new, locally sourced (Jackson, MI) nanogrid with fold-out solar panels to be better prepared for emergencies.


David Fair: Resilience is going to be key in helping Ann Arbor achieve its carbon neutrality goals, but it goes beyond that. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment. Ann Arbor recently received a $1 million grant from the EPA's Environmental Justice Government-to-Government program. It's going to help support investment in creating energy resilience while reaching underserved residents. Now, I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, the grant is all good news to our guest today. Missy Stults serves as the City of Ann Arbor's director of the Office of Sustainability and Innovations. Seems like I might be catching you at a very good time, Missy!

Missy Stults: I think you might be! It's a great day! Thanks for having me!

David Fair: Well, you know, throughout the course of Issues of the Environment, we use a lot of words when we're talking about environmental stewardship. From your professional perspective, what is the relationship between sustainability and resiliency?

Missy Stults: Yeah, it's a great question. So, I think of resilience, and we actually defined it in our office as the "art of bouncing forward not backwards." And that's because things are always changing around us. Technology is changing. Economics are changing. The climate is changing. Social trends are changing. And so, if we always bounce back, which has been an historical way of thinking about resilience, we're always on our heels. So, we want to create systems and structures that help people bounce forward, no matter what shock or stressors are coming their way.

David Fair: It does speak to how all things are connected, that we have to succeed in all areas in order to fully succeed in one. Is that fair?

Missy Stults: That's exactly right! Absolutely! And thinking from a climate perspective, we spend a lot of time in our office thinking about how we help reduce climate pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. That's known as climate mitigation. But we also know that climate change is already here. We're already experiencing changes in precipitation patterns. We're having more heat without relief--so, multiple days of heat over a given period of time where nighttime temperatures don't drop below what's necessary. We've got heat islands in certain places. We've got shifting ecosystems. And so, you can't just reduce climate pollution. You also need to invest in the resilience of your people in your place. So, the impacts of climate change are already here or, sadly, already locked in.

David Fair: Adaptation is another good and crucial word. But not everyone has the ability to adapt as well as others. There's an economic component and social component that plays into the environmental justice component of achieving resiliency. What level priority is environmental justice being given in the resiliency efforts as part of the broader A2ZERO Carbon Neutrality Plan?

Missy Stults: I love that question. And the answer is it's centered in the work, because we have to acknowledge, at least from our vantage, that those that are the most vulnerable to climate change are often those that have done the least to contribute to the problem. And as we're thinking about community solutions, we have to make sure that everyone has the tools and resources they need--and uniquely need--to survive and thrive in this given moment. And so, starting from a justice perspective means that, very high likelihood, we're going to create solutions that help our underinvested-in populations the most right away. But those solutions will almost always cascade out to help everybody. And I'm happy to talk a little bit about what that means in the context of this grant when we get there.

David Fair: And we are just about there. This is 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment, and we are talking resiliency with Missy Stults. She is Ann Arbor's sustainability and Innovations director. As you just mentioned, the grant comes from the EPA's Environmental Justice Government-to-Government program. It was granted to your office and the Office of Emergency Management. This is money that's going to be invested in emergency resiliency with that environmental justice component at the fore. Correct?

Missy Stults: Yes, and! So, I know you said emergency resilience. That is true, that in a moment of catastrophe or disarray that we'll be investing and making sure we have greater resilience. However, what is also true is it is about investing in the resilience every single day of our people. And so, even on sunny days, it's about making sure people have access to good, healthy, nutritious food and that they have a place to go for afterschool programming or there's educational opportunities to continue professional development. It is about investing in resilience that is designed by residents for residents that work 365 days a year, even during times of disruption.

David Fair: What is going to be the first project funded with the grant money?

Missy Stults: Thanks for the question. There are actually a few kind of prongs of work. The one that's probably the easiest for people to think about is resilience hubs. So, we have two resilience hubs. These are physical places or community centers in Ann Arbor that you can go to all the time. They provide community services, including, like we mentioned before, during times of disruption. We've got Northside Community Center and Resilience Hub, and we've got Bryant Community Center and Resilience Hub. This grant will fund and support four more resilience hubs--existing community-serving institutions with transitioning--to being able to provide their critical services every day. One of those is match funded. That's Peace Neighborhood Center. So, we're working with Peace Neighborhood Center right now to do some of the analysis, the technical work, and figure out what investments they'd like to see made. And then, Green Baxter Court is one that's funded. That's a Housing Commission site, a community center that's funded through the grant. And then, there's two more physical resilience hubs to be determined. And we actually have funding to do them anywhere in the county. So, we'll be working with constituents to identify those. That's kind of one track. Another track is we have grant dollars that we'll be granting out to institutions to advance their ideas of resilience, and that's TBD. So, we'll be setting up a grant program where folks can apply, make pitches for really innovative projects or ideas that they have. And then, another--the last pillar--is we're going to be launching Resilience Ambassadors. So, we'll actually be doing a training program where folks from the community can learn about resilience and then go out and start talking to their neighbors, their friends, their peers about what resilience means and how they can get more involved and have social capital, environmental justice, all of the above.

David Fair: When people think of resiliency, I'm not necessarily sure they think of all that is entailed in one of these hubs. What are all the components that are involved?

Missy Stults: That is a fabulous question. And the answer is it actually depends on the stakeholders that use that space. So, an example would be at Bryant Community Center, where we already have a resilience hub. It provides afterschool programming for neighborhood children. That's really important--summer school curriculum for youth. It also is used as a community meeting space. Bryant is the largest food distribution site in Washtenaw County. So, we've got to make sure that those freezers and those refrigerators can operate every single day, so we don't have food waste. And people are getting access to the nutritious food that they need. There's, I think I might have said this, but there's community space, so folks can come in and have their own meetings and events. There's stormwater management on site to make sure we don't flood out that facility, because no use in having a resilience hub if you can't access it. It's got solar and energy storage systems, so we're not susceptible to power outages and large storms. You can come in and do charging as needed. There's a playground. So, in that case, it was really defined by what the community already was using the Community Center for. In Peace, we're having the same conversation. What are the critical needs? What are the critical services that Peace already provides every single day to residents in the community? And how do we lean in to making sure they can keep doing that, regardless of what happens?

David Fair: Our Issues of the Environment conversation with Missy Stults continues on 89 one WEMU. Missy is director of the Office of Sustainability and Innovations for the City of Ann Arbor. To come full circle once again, how do resiliency hubs serve the greater goal of getting to a place of reaching the city goal of carbon neutrality by 2030?

Missy Stults: Yeah. So, resilience is actually one of the seven strategies of A2ZERO, which is, as you know, our carbon neutrality plan framework, actions, goals all kind of bundled into one. And so, these resilience hubs do happen to be making investments in energy efficiency. They're making investments in renewable energy generation. They are also often serving as living learning laboratories of sustainability in action. So, as residents are coming in and interacting in that space, maybe we're doing education around heat. Did you know that, right now, 100% of the power we're using in this building is coming from that solar array on the roof, or we're looking to install geothermal at one of the sites, being able to educate youth about geothermal systems and how the earth actually is in a stable temperature of around 55 degrees all year. And we can tap into that to heat and cool our homes and businesses. There's all kinds of ways that we can kind of demystify the work around sustainability, make it really accessible and fun and educational, and engage multigenerational folks in this work. That's exciting, too. It also is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as you know, and it's part of the movement building, right? It's the invitation in for lots of different stakeholders to the critical work of sustainability.

David Fair: So, again, it's all connected. What are some of the other projects that are either getting underway or will advance through 2024?

Missy Stults: Oh, right! Because we've got a lot, Dave! Don't doubt that we've got a lot going on over here. In terms of resilience, we just purchased a mobile, multigrid, which is going to be used to go on to sites when power goes out. You can connect to this mobile system. It's solar powered. It's got a little fuel cell inside, but it's also a community engagement tool. So, we're going to be using that. We should get at the end of the summer. We're going to go out into neighborhoods, host neighborhood block parties and events. That may not seem like resilience, but I'll tell you what it sure is. Neighbors knowing neighbors and helping foster that kind of interaction is really, really critical for folks to take care of each other, right? To look out for each other. So, we'll be using this little nanogrids to help encourage people to come out and learn a little bit about sustainability, maybe get some ice cream or some delicious frozen treats. We're also doing a bunch of work on emergency and family preparedness, making sure that families actually have a plan for what's going to happen, what they're going to do, and everyone knows what that plan is if a disaster does strike. So, we'll be hosting a series of conversations for families--very open, very age-appropriate and helping families start put together their own emergency preparedness plan and kit, so they can move forward. Those are some of the things off the top of my head, but we're also continuing the ambassador program. We're training more and more people on this topic. That matters a lot. You've already said it a few times. All of this is connected. It's also all kind of movement-building.

David Fair: Well, thank you for the time today and sustaining our conversation. And thank you for updating the ongoing efforts in Ann Arbor. I appreciate it!

Missy Stults: I appreciate you! Thanks for the opportunity!

David Fair: That is Missy Stults, director of the Ann Arbor Office of Sustainability and Innovation and our guest on Issues of the Environment. For more information on today's topic, well, we'll get you linked everywhere you want to go if you'll just stop by our website at wemu.org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. And you hear it every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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