Could turning unused parking lots into greenspace help keep Detroit cooler in the summer?

Extreme weather due to climate change threatens health of residents

With the extreme weather we’re seeing, the parking lots and pavement all over Detroit poses a big problem.

DETROIT – The parking lots and pavement across Detroit pose a huge problem as we face extreme weather due to climate change.

For decades, scientists have warned of the effects of climate change on Detroit. The two biggest problems are heat stress illness and flooding. Both of which Detroit residents saw this summer -- a lot of it is because of excessive pavement.

Of Detroit’s 139 square miles, 75 of them are impervious and a lot of that is in pavement. Roads and sidewalks. Those very same things that were drivers of Detroit’s booming economy are also driving the worst effects of climate change.

“It just means that we’re kind of feeding into this loop of warmer days, warmer temperatures, and then with pavement and with buildings and concrete. All of that heat is absorbed and then that exacerbates the climate situation. There wasn’t, there’s nowhere for that heat to go in other words,” environmental law professor at Detroit Mercy Nicholas Schroeck said.

Concrete and asphalt are good at trapping heat from the sun. In one EPA study done at the peak of summer, pavement routinely hits temperatures between 120 to 150 degrees. That’s compared to grass, which has been shown to be sometimes 40 degrees cooler than pavement.

Then there’s the flooding issues. All the hard surface also means water doesn’t soak into the ground and instead flows into sewers, ponds and the Detroit River. Taking with it all of the chemicals and trash that collect in parking lots and streets. There have been some groups pushing to change course and tear up the unused and over paved places.

One of those groups is Detroit Future City, an environmental group working on depaving Detroit. The first project was on Detroit’s west side at the St. Suzanne Cody Rouge Community Resource Center. Steve Wasco has been a lifelong parishioner and is now a project manager who volunteered to depave 7,500 square feet of unused parking lot. The old lot was turned into greenspace.

Read: More climate change news coverage

About the Authors:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.