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Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC)

Michigan's Engaging Community through the Classroom (MECC) is a "grass-roots" initiative developed by a group of instructors, department chairs, and program managers, as well as representatives from the UM Office of the Vice President for Research, Office of the Vice President for Government Relations, and Office of University Development.

This initiative seeks to explore possibilities for coordinating student projects and develop a workable plan for advancing a classroom-community collaboration. This initiative fits with the University of Michigan's mission to integrate research, teaching, and public service in innovative ways.

The goal of MECC is to leverage ongoing community-oriented professional undergraduate and graduate courses that are offered routinely at UM by coordinating a selection of those courses on a given locality and set of related problems. The initiative also seeks to simultaneously improve the learning opportunities for the students involved and the outreach service provided to the communities involved.

MECC Promotes Student Collaboration Beyond the Classroom: Exploring Re-Purposing of Obsolete Power Plants

In winter 2016, the Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom Initiative (MECC) tackled an increasingly visible challenge found throughout our communities: what do we do with obsolete power plants?

In previous generations, power-generating plants were often dangerous, generated significant levels of pollution, and required brick walls and barbed wired fences to keep people out twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In short, the area is not a residential-friendly one.  Such was the case with DTE's decommissioned Connor Creek Plant in the Marina District in Detroit.

Over the last 25 years, blocks adjacent to the Connor Creek plant became either under-utilized or vacant altogether. Retail could no longer be supported, and the school-age population dwindled, forcing the closure of local schools. Yet there were positive aspects to the site as well: located on almost 40 acres along the slowly revitalizing Detroit Riverfront, the plant housed numerous historic-quality buildings that could be adaptively reused.

Recognizing the potential of the site and wanting to be a better neighbor, DTE's Energize Detroit program reached out to the MECC Initiative to identify feasible ideas for the site and a starting point for revitalization.  MECC helped connect students from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning with the Multi-Disciplinary Design Team (through the University of Michigan College of Engineering) to partner in exploring the possibilities. The urban planning capstone group conducted a neighborhood needs assessment, and architecture students used the study to identify options for the adaptive reuse of specific Connor Creek structures on site.  The multidisciplinary design team then worked on optimizing the cost and route of a summer transit line for children getting to the Riverfront, incorporating locations identified by residents and business owners through urban planning student interviews  The final report included suggestions regarding improved wayfinding and mass transit routes as well as phasing of land use changes and specific concepts for the reuse of the site.

Over the summer, DTE announced it will continue to investigate MECC's ideas and will sponsor a volunteer cleanup effort to generate excitement and engagement surrounding the site's next iteration as a neighborhood asset. The full report can be found here.



Paul Fontaine
Program Manager / Lecturer
Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
734.834.6344 | paulfont@umich.edu