Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan, USA is the automobile capital of the world, part of the industrial heartland and Rust Belt, and a major urban area. For over two centuries, the Detroit River was perceived as a working river that supported commerce and industry. Like many other large North American cities, the Motor City made the Detroit River its back door, with businesses facing inland and away from the river. Compounding the problem, Detroit became indifferent to the water pollution that was perceived as a necessary by-product of industrial progress. By the 1960s, the Detroit River was one of the most polluted rivers in North America. Today, the cleanup and recovery of the Detroit River represent one of the most remarkable ecological recovery stories in North America with the return of bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, lake sturgeon, lake whitefish, mayflies, and more. Out of this recovery has come two transformational projects—the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge and the Detroit RiverWalk—that are helping change the perception of the region from that of a Rust Belt city to one of a leader of urban sustainability that reconnects people to nature, improves quality of life, promotes sustainable redevelopment, and enhances community pride. Key lessons learned include: recruit a well-respected champion; ensure broad support from key stakeholder groups; establish core delivery team, focused on outcomes; build trust; adopt a strategic approach to community engagement, creating a connected community
; evoke a sense of place; and measure and celebrate successes to sustain momentum.
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