Jim Gunshinan, Matt Grocoff, and Tim Dingman on the porch at 760 Virginia Park in Detroit. (Photo by Tom White)
Got up early on Tuesday and went with Tom White, Home Energy
Publisher, to a rehab house in a neighborhood of Detroit where we met Matt Grocoff, principal of the Thrive Collaborative
and a leading advocate for net zero energy buildings and Tim Dingman, engineer and cofounder of Rebirth Realty
in Detroit. The Virginia Park neighborhood overall, like many residential neighborhoods in and around Detroit, looks like New Orleans after Katrina! Big beautiful houses built 100 years ago, boarded up, roofs falling in, windows boarded up or broken… But in the midst of that are young people like Tim and his colleagues working with the city historic housing community and nonprofits rehabbing houses and renting them. Because of the housing degradation there is a lack of rental properties in the area so it is easy to get people to live in these rehabbed, beautiful old buildings. Once inside a house and seeing what is being done, I feel a lot better about the situation; like seeing that the patient is in the ICU and is doing well! Still, the city wants to demolish 60,000 or more houses in the Detroit area! Not deconstruct and save what is savable, but demolish and dump in a landfill. Hopefully the push-back from the rehabbers and environmentalists will keep that from happening.
On Wednesday morning Steve Cowell of Conservation Service Group was awarded the BPI Tony Woods Award for Excellence in Advancing the Home Performance Industry; Jackie Berger, PhD, president and co-founder of APPRISE
, was named ACI's Woman of the Year; and Linda Wigington, ACI founder and a Founding Mother of Home Performance, was recognized for her continuing contributions. Steve announced a new coalition among the National Home Performance Council
(NHPC), BPI, ACI, Efficiency First (EF), and Home Energy
Magazine (HEM). ACI has already merged with NHPC to become the Home Performance Coalition (HPC), and that is to be the name of the new organization that is forming. (I count five acronyms with a total of fifteen letters being combined into an acronym of three letters—a good thing all by itself.) Van Jones was the keynote speaker at the Wednesday morning plenary session. He said that the new coalition could be a national economic game changer. He said a lot more but Tom and I will be writing an article on Van’s presence, vision, and words of challenge and encouragement in an article/blog post soon to be published. Hint: Learn to RAP and fill the gaps!
Michael Blasnik cast aspersions on modeling and NREL’s Dave Roberts defended them; Kara Saul Rinaldi and Robin LeBaron of NHPC went deep into the meaning of the term “cost effective” and offered the Resource Value Framework
to help energy efficiency program managers define the energy and non-energy benefits of energy efficiency programs; and Debra Little inaugurated the very first Home Energy Upgrade Film Festival, with both hilarious and serious short films by Anthony Cox, Peter Troast, Faith Morgan, and Debra herself.
Good jazz was heard in clubs (like Cliff Bell’s
), good food was eaten, and Detroit was explored. Many of us found that Detroit is not what we expected. Yes, it does look like a city in ruins. But among the ruins there is a lot of new life springing up. I experienced Detroit while living there in the summers of 1979 and 1980, while working as an intern for General Motors. The new Renaissance Center, where the conference attendees stayed this week, was then still a prime tourist destination. One summer I smashed, burned, and ripped apart things in the GM physical testing labs in Warren, Michigan, and the second summer I sliced, etched, polished, and looked at car parts under a microscope. One of the many friends I made was a student at Wayne State who was just starting a fraternity chapter in a beautiful old home near the university that needed a lot of work. I’m pretty sure that fraternity house is being rehabbed in the Virginia Park neighborhood where I visited this week. There is something about Detroit that does not want to die. In fact, it wants to thrive. Could this be a lesson for the rest of the country?