Speaking truth By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Speaking truth

By Shea Howell

January 29, 2013


Shea Howell
Shea Howell

Detroit Works (DW) launched a new format for its public information campaign about its strategic framework for the redevelopment of Detroit. The most recent newsletter says, “We know that Detroit Future City is an extensive document, so we would like to highlight smaller sections of the framework to make it easier for you to become familiar with the different strategies.” They begin by highlighting neighborhoods, and invite people to a series of “Road Shows that they will coordinate throughout the city.

This effort to get people to carefully read the document is welcome. To assist in the dialogue, we offer some things for you to consider as you read it or participate in meetings. By way illustration, we will explore the section on City Systems.

As we have explained in earlier articles, one of the deficiencies of the Detroit Works Project was the inability to answer basic questions about in whose interests the city will be reshaped. The implication from the Detroit Works team is that we do not have to choose among competing values or mutually exclusive alternatives.

There is some truth in this position. We would all benefit from the improvement in air and water quality, from more green space and an emphasis on healthy modes of transportation like bicycling and walking.

There is also a major problem in this approach. Early in the section on City Systems the DW team introduces the idea of “Reconciling and Replenishing.” Revamping our aging infrastructures are not just matters of “efficiency,” they say, but “it is a matter of just for all.” To emphasize this the report notes that these aging systems, “harm health as well as pocketbooks. In particular air pollution form industry and car exhaust have contributed to high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases, especially among children.”

Later they specifically look at the impact of poor air quality, saying

“Detroiters have among the highest rates of asthma and related respiratory diseases nationally. African Americans and the poor are disproportionately affected due to the legacy of racially charged policies that targeted these communities as receivers of new highways, incinerators and industrial activity.”

Suggested strategic actions do not match these strong statements of the problems we face. This is because the document does not tackle any of the major private-corporate interests who have been so keen on diminishing our public services and public ownership of utilities and municipal responsibilities.

So, for example, in the Implementation Actions section for waste management we find these 3 items: 1. Reduce waste through citizen education and working with the packaging industry, 2.develop targeted and city wide curbside recycling programs, and 3. Ensure the incinerator emissions remain at or below US EPA standards and international best practices.

In other words, in spite of all of the claims of reinventing our city, this plan does not even entertain the possibility of closing the Detroit Incinerator. The closing of this incinerator would arguably be the single most important recommendation the DW could have made to immediately improve the quality of air we all breath.

The Incinerator has been the object of an international law suit to shut it down, innumerable citizens protests, at least two recent City Council resolutions attempting to stop city waste from being burned in it, and when those failed, a resolution to hire an attorney to seek an injunction against its continued use.

Why does this incinerator continue? One reason, according to Miller Canfield Attorneys who represent the incinerator is that it needs the city’s garbage in order to provide the steam it needs to meet the contracts it now has with the city to provide steam heat and power. We are putting lead into the air our children breath in the name of providing heat for their schools.

Redesigning our city requires more than ideas. It requires speaking the full truth to power.