Flint, MI — A new program hopes to tackle climate change on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level in Flint.

Climate Resilient Flint, a coalition of Kettering University, Neighborhood Engagement Hub (NEH), Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint, Genesee Conservation District and the M.A.D.E. Institute, is offering $4,000 grants for neighborhood groups to revitalize vacant lots with an eye toward climate resiliency. 

The coalition’s program, called the Cool Lot project, is supported by funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and led by principal investigator Pamela Carralero, an assistant professor of environmental humanities at Kettering.

“The project came about for a couple of reasons,” Carralero said. “I really wanted to just start climate change conversations in Flint. I think that we were flirting around them, but through different issues such as environmental justice … blight, crime prevention.”

Carralero saw that there were already grassroot groups doing “such fantastic things” to support Flint’s climate resilience — or the city’s ability to manage the impacts of climate change and stop them from worsening — but there was no one person or entity focused on it.

So, after a little over two years of research, calls and emails, the Cool Lots project was ready for launch.

Carralero said the project is focused on mitigating heat and flooding concerns in Wards 1, 2 and 3, as “these are the areas where we see a very high or disproportionate burden of climate impacts.”

She said the reason for that disproportionate burden is “multifaceted” but stems from redlining, older housing stock and economic stability.

“While we’re all going to feel the effects of heat, that’s not evenly distributed,” she said. “It’s not that we’re going to be feeling the heat differently if you walk outside… [it’s that] you’re going to see certain groups that are feeling the effects of heat in maybe more acute ways than other groups.”

Carralero gave the example of a neighborhood full of green spaces with ample trees and shade as opposed to lots of pavement and asphalt surfaces.

The latter, she said, “suck in the heat and radiate it and give the area less time to cool down.”

Ultimately, she said, Cool Lots is looking to provide neighborhood groups planning support and funding to repurpose lots in their area to provide shade, mitigate flooding and hopefully reduce surrounding air conditioning bills.

“There’s a lot of opinions as to what should be the focus in Flint, and often it’s public safety and blight, but I think it’s all related,” Tom Wyatt, executive director of NEH said of his organization’s participation. “And I think even though those things are challenges, we still have a responsibility to try to address other issues at the same time.”

Wyatt added that he recognized not all applicants for the project’s grants may be interested in planting trees, as trees can be difficult and time consuming to maintain over the seasons. 

However, he encouraged any and all interested Flint residents to attend an upcoming information session to learn about the project’s different options for lot revitalization focused on climate resilience, especially as the program may expand beyond its initial wards in the future.

Carralero seconded the invitation to all residents, noting that there is a climate literacy component to the coalition’s work beyond just this initial project.

“While our [immediate] goal is to ‘throw shade’ and … decrease minor nuisance flooding,” she said with a smile and air quotes, “our real goal is to develop climate literacy and civic engagement surrounding climate change.”

Climate Resilient Flint will be hosting information sessions about its Cool Lots project at the Neighborhood Engagement Hub, located at 3216 Martin Luther King Ave. over the coming weeks. 

All sessions are from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will feature socializing and refreshments alongside grant information:

  • Ward 1 info session: August 16
  • Ward 2 info session: August 8
  • Ward 3 info session: August 30

More information on the project is available here and an application form can be found here. The deadline for applications is Sept. 8, 2023.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....