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Detroit Green Garage looks for the meaning of "green"

The view inside the Detroit Green Garage
Detroit Green Garage
via Facebook
The view inside the Detroit Green Garage

People everywhere are trying to get a grasp on what “sustainability” and “green jobs” really look like.

That’s an especially urgent quest in a struggling industrial city like Detroit.

Some folks there have developed a building—and a community—that’s trying to find out. It’s called theDetroit Green Garage.                                                      

The Detroit Green Garage was a sort of garage at one point. It started off in 1920 as a Model T showroom just north of downtown Detroit.

“There were actually no pillars because they used to drive Models T’s through here,” explains Peggy Brennan, a co-founder and owner of the Green Garage. Pointing, she adds , “They went in here and went out there.”

A few years ago, Brennan and her husband Tom got interested in all things sustainability related. They held weekly study groups on environmental issues, but they wanted to do more. So they went hunting for a space where they could create a larger green-focused community, and they found it here in this building.

“What we ended up doing was spending two years with a community of people doing design work, as to how we were going to make it into how we were going to do materials, and all that stuff,” Brennan said.

The result: this former abandoned warehouse has been re-built from the inside, almost entirely from re-used and re-purposed materials. And the Green Garage largely creates its own energy—through solar panels and a geo-thermal heating and cooling system.

Now that the building itself is functional, the Green Garage is just now moving into its main role as a green business incubator. There are two businesses there already, and Brennan says they have room for up to 15.

Jason Peet has spent a lot of time at the Green Garage. He’s been getting help from Green Garage researchers and using workshop space as he launches his business.

Peet said when he first started hanging out here, all he had was an idea.

“I knew that I wanted to work with reclaimed wood and the problem of demolition, and the way demolition was being done in the city,” Peet said.” I knew I wanted to produce a product out of that and that the history of the home was attached to the wood.”

Now, Peet is in the process of launching a business he calls Mend—one that makes furniture from wood taken out of Detroit homes that are about to be demolished. He sees it as a way to make something out of material that would otherwise go to the landfill—and preserve a bit of the city’s history.

Peet said Detroit is a great place to be for that because with tens of thousands of abandoned homes, there’s “tons of material” to work with.

But there’s more to it than that. “I think [Detroit] is a great place to do this work because there’s so many other people, there’s so much energy,” Peet said. “And that’s something I experience on a daily basis.”

The Brennans say that’s exactly what they hope to foster with the Green Garage. Not just the businesses that could be the foundation of a new “green economy”—but a community working to define what it means to live sustainably.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.