July 22nd, 2021
After the Rains
This week the strongest argument for voting Yes on Proposal P for the new city charter came with torrential rains. Much like the pandemic, this catastrophe revealed the lack of comprehensive thinking about how to live more consciously in just and sustainable ways.
For the second time in three weeks people throughout Detroit experienced massive flooding. Water swirled through houses, made streets impassible and compounded the misery of those still cleaning up from the last storm.
Much of the response to this latest storm has been predictable, with efforts to analyze system failures. But there seems to be little understanding of the interconnected effects of having allowed our city to develop in ways that did not prioritize caring for people and for the land and waters that sustain us.
The kind of thinking that brought us to this place is exactly the kind of thinking being challenged by the proposed new City Charter. In a recent article supporting the Charter, Peter Hammer, Director of the Damon Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School, explained that the opposition to the new charter is rooted in fear of the new ideas and values contained in it.
He said: “This is the real reason behind the political and legal opposition to the Charter. Since the death of the Great Society, cities have languished in persistent policies of fiscal austerity, neoliberalism and empty promises of economic development fueled by tax abatements for already wealthy corporations. Existing policies are making the lives of real Detroiters worse, not better. We need new ideas, new policies and new approaches that put people and not property at the center of development. The new city charter does just that.
The new Detroit City Charter and the Detroiter’s Bill of Rights are an express rejection of the failed economic, social and political policies of the past. The Charter is a positive assertion of positive rights to meet the essential needs of the residents of Detroit. This is why it is perceived to be so dangerous.”
The emptiness of the current way of thinking can be seen in everything from the lack of political will to provide clean, safe drinking water to everyone, to the uncertainty and stress allowed to persist as thousands of families face eviction and loss of basic access to food and safety.
In a comprehensive analysis of the proposals for the new charter by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC) we get a glimpse of the real and immediate changes the new charter would bring to us. In a July memorandum the CRC explored the approach to public health, noting how it is expanded to include concepts of public works, environmental justice, and care for the most vulnerable.
Starting with the health of Detroiters, the proposed charter would change the current Health and Sanitation Department to the Health Department providing that sanitation be addressed in Public Works and a new Office of Environmental Justice and Sustainability. The description of this new Health Department has been updated to elaborate and clarify its objectives and tasks, including:
- detailing what approach will be taken to address matters of an epidemic or pandemic
- assessing the level, quality, and access to healthy food options
- establishing an emergency mental health crisis response team
- providing public health services for homeless citizens
The enumerated powers of the amended Health Department are all extremely important and meritorious. They respond to current and past health-related issues that have disproportionately affected Detroiters in a manner unequal to the rest of the state.”
Whatever the limitation of the new charter, it is an opportunity to think in bold ways about how we live together. It affirms our capacity to care for one another and imagine a city committed to enhancing life, even in heavy rains.
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