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Should 'scrappers' go mainstream in Detroit?

  • Contact Mike Shriberg, (734) 647-6227, mshriber@umich.edu or Lisa Pappas (734) 615-3325, lapappas@umich.edu

Scrap metal recycling container in front of Detroit’s former Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects during their summer 2014 demolition. Image credit: Nick CaverlyScrap metal recycling container in front of Detroit’s former Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects during their summer 2014 demolition. Image credit: Nick CaverlyANN ARBOR—For years, "scrappers" have illicitly mined and sold valuable materials out of abandoned Detroit properties, and nonprofits have convened neighborhood volunteers to paint and preserve structures.

Now, with support from the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program, University of Michigan anthropology doctoral student Nicholas Caverly is examining these practices as viable alternatives to property demolition in the city.

U-M's Dow Sustainability Fellows Program seeks to cultivate future leaders by bringing together a select group of the most promising U-M graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, who integrate the power of their respective disciplines to help solve natural, social and economic sustainability challenges. Caverly is one such future leader, and his innovative project is one of dozens being supported by Dow's sustainability-education research program at U-M.

Piles of scrap metal line a railroad transfer station in southwest Detroit. Image credit: Nick CaverlyPiles of scrap metal line a railroad transfer station in southwest Detroit. Image credit: Nick Caverly"There are all kinds of ambitious models for sustainable urban living, but these approaches typically address the problem of abandoned structures by demolishing them and dumping the waste in landfills," said Caverly, who today starts the two-year Dow Sustainability Fellows Program with nine other new fellows. "My research focuses on bringing the informal practices of scrappers and community groups into conversation with formal efforts to address the city's abandonment."

As part of his doctoral research, Caverly is looking at entrepreneurs and artists who turn salvaged building products into commercial goods and artworks and a Detroit nonprofit that makes sandals out of salvaged tires. By exploring different methods of reusing decayed buildings, Caverly hopes to inform more far-reaching efforts to repurpose degraded built environments, both in Detroit and elsewhere.

Caverly is one of 10 new Dow Sustainability Doctoral Fellows who are joining 10 second-year fellows to make a positive difference through their research. The new fellows, and their research subject matter, are:

  • Hua Cai, School of Natural Resources and Environment/College of Engineering (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), "Understanding the true environmental impacts of electric vehicles."
  • Nicholas Caverly, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (Department of Anthropology), "Transforming vacant buildings into economic resources and tools for social change."
  • Martin Dwelle, College of Engineering (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), "Assessing the sustainability of modern agriculture through national-scale soil-loss assessments."
  • James Erbaugh, School of Natural Resources and Environment, "Reducing carbon emissions through sustainable management of tropical forests."
  • Erin Hamilton, Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning, "Understanding how people affect, and are affected, by the built and natural environments."
  • Mitsuhito Hirose, College of Engineering (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), "Improving the flow of energy for buildings through the use of decentralized wireless Model Predictive Controllers, with a pilot demonstration on U-M's North Campus."
  • Shamitha Keerthi, School of Natural Resources and Environment, "Using modeling to analyze water-quality impacts of the biofuel mandate."
  • Yong Hyun Kim, Ross School of Business, "Studying 50 global mobile phone manufacturers and how their supply chains impact sustainability."
  • Sara Meerow, School of Natural Resources and Environment, "Exploring urban resilience in the face of climate change and disasters, using the megacity of Manila as a case study."
  • Justin Williams, School of Natural Resources and Environment, "Questioning what it means to seek more just environments, using the theory of special justice."

Artwork in the windows of a vacant apartment building in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood. Image credit: Nick CaverlyArtwork in the windows of a vacant apartment building in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood. Image credit: Nick Caverly"These fellows are committed to finding interdisciplinary, actionable and meaningful sustainability solutions on local to global scales," said Neil Hawkins, corporate vice president and chief sustainability officer at Dow Chemical Co. "As a company, Dow is committed to global sustainable development, and both education and innovation will play critical roles in making this a reality. As a result, Dow is pleased to support the research of the Dow Sustainability Fellows, and I look forward to learning from their work."

As part of the two-year program, Dow Sustainability Doctoral Fellows participate in an ongoing seminar and engage in a series of co-curricular activities designed to nurture and expand interdisciplinary thinking and leadership. For example, fellows conduct a project of their choosing with partners from different disciplines as a required part of the program.

"It's exciting to see a new cohort of doctoral fellows with such a robust and varied portfolio of research subjects," said Graham Family Professor Don Scavia, who directs the universitywide Dow program. "With fellows' expertise areas ranging from anthropology and architecture to civil engineering and the environment, there are sure to be some dynamic intellectual exchanges between them."

Now in its second full year, the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program fosters sustainability innovation on multiple levels at the university. In addition to the doctoral fellows program, elements include a master's fellows program, a postdoctoral program, and the Dow Distinguished Awards for Interdisciplinary Sustainability.

 

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M planet blue: the sustainable differenceU-M Sustainability fosters a more sustainable world through collaborations across campus and beyond aimed at educating students, generating new knowledge, and minimizing our environmental footprint. Learn more at sustainability.umich.edu.