The City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability


How the City created its first Sustainability Action Agenda with an inclusive, equitable engagement strategy

Beacon Communities

The challenge:

Reaching historically underrepresented communities

The City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability was established in 2017 to facilitate healthy, green, vibrant, and accessible neighborhoods, homes, and businesses for all Detroiters. To set their course, they contracted AECOM to organize a massive public engagement initiative to create the Sustainability Action Agenda, which would guide the Office’s work.

To include more Detroiters in the conversation and to elevate the voices of historically underrepresented and disadvantaged communities throughout the process, AECOM and the City set out to eliminate barriers to participation and create an inclusive engagement strategy by rolling out coUrbanize, a dynamic online communications platform.

City of Detroit Sustainability

An Innovative & Inclusive Engagement Strategy

On coUrbanize, Detroiters provided their feedback on an interactive map and responded to an in-depth survey about their aspirations and concerns. Residents were able to participate in English, Spanish, or Arabic, reflecting the diversity of Detroit. Additionally, residents were able to send their feedback to the City via text message, creating an opportunity for participation for those without internet access.

The City also connected with community members on the ground. They worked with community ambassadors who could best engage with the public. They also hosted in-depth focus groups with residents and workshops with practitioners. The engagement strategy also improved upon the classic public forum: the City held a series of public community meetings where participants used interactive tools like text messaging to respond to questions.

The City also committed to developing and communicating clear, measurable goals for the Sustainability Action Agenda. Following their robust and inclusive engagement process, the City continued to provide regular updates on the progress of the Agenda and asked residents to help identify community organizations that could play a role in the Agenda’s implementation. These actions helped deliver on the project’s goal of creating a more sustainable Detroit where all Detroiters thrive and prosper in an equitable, green city.

“What’s been cool about the tool is it really allows folks to zoom down to their neighborhood level and talk about what do they love about their neighborhood, and what would they change, in a way that makes sustainability a little more tangible.”

Joel Howrani Heeres
Director of Sustainability
City of Detroit

The City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability used CoUrbanize to gather more than 1,300 comments on the platform and to carry out polls at public community meetings.

positive or neutral sentiment
and 90,000+ page views
project followers

The solution:

Utilizing translation to reach a wider base

The City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability placed SMS text message signs asking key questions related to sustainability in that area, encouraging pedestrians to share their feedback.

This method activated pedestrians who pass through neighborhoods and gave a voice to those without easy access to computers and smartphones. These text messages were posted directly to the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda page on coUrbanize.

To connect with as many community members as possible, both the platform and the SMS signs were translated into Spanish and Arabic to reach non-native English speakers. The information on the project site, including questions and responses, was also translated into Spanish and Arabic.

Actionable insights shape sustainability priorities

Through coUrbanize and the rest of the City’s engagement efforts, Detroit collected input from 6,800 residents to guide the priorities for the Agenda. Residents shared ideas about how to improve the environment around them and highlighted the unique characteristics that should be preserved.

The insights gathered from the City’s three engagement phases shaped the 43 actions and 10 goals that serve as the foundation for Detroit’s Sustainability Agenda, which was published in summer 2019.

Customer Success Stories


See All Case Studies