What Cities Can Learn from Detroit’s Green Garage

by Jul 31, 2013Smart Cities

Amanda Lewan

Amanda Lewan is a content strategist and blogger based in Metro Detroit. She is the editor of Michipreneur.com, an online publication for Michigan startups. As a writer, her work has been featured in local and national publications including The Nation, Deadline Detroit, and Crain’s Detroit Business. As a strategist, she helps businesses tell stories across digital mediums.


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Along some of the cozy cobblestone roads of Detroit, in an area with old brick homes and universities, you’ll find a business incubator on 4444 Second Avenue.

[map width=”260″ height=”260″ zoom=”11″ type=”ROADMAP”]
[marker address=”4444 2nd Ave Detroit, MI 48201″]Detroit’s Green Garage[/marker]
[/map]

Detroit’s Green Garage is located a pocket of preserved homes that isn’t too far away from patches of the city’s well-known urban blight. The building is remarkable. It was built in 1922 as a Model T automobile showroom. It was renovated a little over two years ago into a green business incubator.

Like most co-working spaces, the building comes with private and shared desk space, conference rooms, a kitchen, bathroom and shower areas, as well as a few separate rooms for businesses attached to the Green Garage. It’s unique from the way it’s built out, made almost entirely out of re-purposed materials from the city.

Sneak Peak at the Green Garage

  • Built to be over 11,000 square feet
  • Home to more than twenty businesses
  • Memberships start as low as $50 a month
  • Built with triple-glazed windows, a white roof, and extra thick insulation that cuts down energy costs
  • Made almost entirely of re-used and re-purposed materials
  • Urban farm on Green Garage rooftop
  • Learn more about the Green Garage
  • Check out more photos from Curbed Detroit


Tom and Peggy Brenan started the incubator to help small businesses learn how to create a trip-bottom-line business model, and to also build a green culture in the city.  They aim for what they call “slow growth” that will better create lasting jobs in the city, the couple told the New York Times. Tom Brennan used to work at global consulting firm Accenture, and encourages the startups inside Detroit’s Green Garage to turn to the communities they serve for resources.

So far many of their businesses have grown in their fully leased space, and the atmosphere and community of the Green Garage is one to admire as a hub for green co-working and innovation. Co-working spaces and green communities can take not from the following factors of Detroit’s Green Garage.

Be a Part of the City’s Story

The businesses that take part in this co-working space know they’re a part of the city’s story. Inhabiting what was an abandoned structure is one part of it, but the greater part is knowing that there’s a need to work together to help the city. Businesses collaborate and always point each other to resources in Detroit. With the recent announcement of bankruptcy, these businesses aren’t shying away, they’re sticking together to build businesses in Detroit.

Focus on Community Building

This co-working space only allows for companies that fit one of two categories: green innovation, or community focused businesses. Notable companies and groups inside the Green Garage include the local crowdfuding site Patronicity, the entrepreneurial food group Detroit Food Labs, and De-tread a tire recycling company. Establishing these boundaries ensures that the co-working space itself is a community of like-minded individuals working together. The space is also very affordable for startups, starting at just $50 a month.

Slow Growth Has its Place

Another factor that really distinguishes Detroit’s Green Garage is their aim for slower, more organic growth. Tom and Peggy Brennan enforce a slower growth, offering one on one consultation to help grow a business in a certain direction, rather than push businesses through a setup a legal entity, business plan, and get going type of cookie cutter processes.

Open Your Doors to the Community

Each Friday the Green Garage welcomes visitors far and wide to visit their co-working space for what they call Community Lunches. The lunches started back when the space was first being built out, and it was a way to welcome the community inside and share the Green Garage’s story. Now it’s serves as a way to show the building to colleges, professionals, and other groups that frequently drop by, and also provide networking for the local businesses.

Encourage Local Resources

Many of the startups inside the Green Garage are encouraged to use local resources to help them grow, whether it’s collaborating with another startup for services needed, or local investing through programs like Kiva Detroit, a crowdfunding site that raises money locally up to $5,000 without interest. It’s another great example of investing, growing, and building a local economy from the ground up.

As a digital media startup myself, I worked inside the Green Garage this past year. The group of businesses really focus on working together. This type of social work fosters a community feel and interdependence that can help businesses thrive together.

Tom and Peggy aren’t going to stop with just one space. The couple is already working on a second space that will serve as a community hostel for visitors to Detroit. The building is in early stages but will likely benefit from similar green building strategies. 

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