The Green Garage Hopes To Incubate Urban Sustainability in Detroit

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welcoming scent of fresh-cut wood, and that’s because (the mostly reclaimed) wood is everywhere: a wall is made from pieces of scrap wood that was designed by a student from the College for Creative Studies, desks are made of fallen urban walnut trees, and the flooring came from an old popcorn factory. Look closely at the rails on the staircase—they’ve been repurposed from old gas and steam pipes. Desks, chairs, and doors have been salvaged from shuttered Detroit Public School buildings; the marble in the bathrooms is from the building designer’s garage. (The bathrooms are impressive enough from a design standpoint, but then Brennan mentions that they built a separate shower room to encourage people to use non-motorized transportation whenever possible and you see the true beauty of 200 people having a voice in the design of a building.)

But the Green Garage isn’t just lovely asthetically, the Brennans have also transformed the former Model T showroom and sundry goods warehouse into a net zero energy building. Instead of pouring environmentally unfriendly concrete to level the floors, they spent upward of seven months hand leveling it. There are 10 solar thermal panels on the roof, which will soon be joined by a garden and containers to collect rainwater. Hot water courses through the floorboards, providing radiant heat, while tight insulation ensures that the Green Garage will stay cool in the summer. (Even the insulation was reclaimed and trucked to Detroit from the East coast.)

The Brennans came to the Green Garage project after careers as an engineer at Accenture (him) and stay-at-home motherhood and library science (her). Peggy describes Tom as an “idea generator” who kicked off his environmental activism by serving on a couple of boards, then becoming deeply involved in efforts to clean up the River Raisin. “The Great Work” by Thomas Berry was very influential to both, and it led to them forming the Great Lakes Green Initiative, the collective of volunteers who started out meeting around a kitchen table to work together on changing their lifestyles to become more eco-friendly. That group grew into the team of 200 who eventually developed and designed the Green Garage.

“We just thought it would be interesting to set up a green demonstration center,” Brennan says.

Initially, the group looked for locations in Ann Arbor, because being near a university was a priority. But then the group began wondering what a green demonstration project would look like in Detroit, and the Brennans purchased the first building they were shown—the former Model T showroom at 4444 2nd Ave.

The Green Garage opened a few months ago, and already has two businesses, New Solutions and Final Five Productions, renting space. At full capacity, the Green Garage is expected to house 15 businesses, though Brennan says plans are always subject to change.

“I always tell people to please understand that they don’t need to do it all at once,” Brennan says. “We spent 25 years doing traditional work. Things evolve. It’s a process, and if you plan it too strongly, you can be disappointed.”

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