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With two strikes against it, Detroit Future City must connect with concerns of citizens

Patrick Geans-Ali

Patrick Geans-Ali

By Patrick Geans-Ali
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — It may have been opening day for the Detroit Tigers, but for Detroit’s latest urban renewal plan, which changes the way Justin Verlander switches pitches, it’s simply time to step up to the plate and connect with the citizens of city. With two strikes already on the scorecard, the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program took to the mound on April 4 and served up their first-ever State of Detroit’s Environment Report to the Detroit Future City Headquarters in hopes a connection can finally be made.

From Detroit’s Right Sizing Plan, to the Detroit Works Project, to the current Detroit Future City Plan (DFCP) there seems to be one constant: The inability to deliver what Detroiters want. Of course, the backers of the plan contend that their goal has been to do just that, and with the release of the latest incarnation in January, their goal was achieved.

With great fanfare and the promise of $150 million from the Kresge Foundation, the plan was rolled out following months of city-wide enhanced community engagement meetings. Outreach was made to many of the community groups who initially criticized the top-down, clicker-ridden fiascoes. Some of those groups and leaders were brought into the big tent and given positions in the outreach process. So, how could it be off base?

The first clue was that the only version of the plan available to the general public was delivered via the Internet in a font size so small a magnifying glass was needed to read it. That was ironic, considering many DFCP supporters used font size to delay the petition to repeal the emergency manager law this time last year. Of course, if you had neither a magnifying glass nor the Internet, you were out of luck and had to pay $25 for a hard copy.

Fortunately, the Sierra Club reserved a copy and members of the staff and like-minded allies were afforded time to go over the plan. We found few, if any, substantive differences from earlier versions.

What we did find were several glaring omissions that formed the basis of the State of the Environment Report. There was little to address the significant environmental justice issues around public health, industrial epidemiology, excessive heat events, air and traffic pollution in proximity to schools, Brownfields, water pollution, privatization of public lands and the cumulative impact from heavy industry near the industrial corridor.

Much to their credit, DFCP responded promptly with a statement on their Web site. It read: “As we transition into implementation, we will continue to work with organizations and other community partners to improve the quality of life for all Detroiters and create a more prosperous, connected, sustainable and socially equitable city.”

That’s a good place to start, except that we are well into a seventh inning stretch. The fact that community groups, leaders and residents have repeatedly tried to engage in the process only to find none of their input in the report, which is not a good sign.

Groups, leaders and residents have raised many of the same issues before. The question is: Why aren’t these concerns being addressed? How can you design a plan to revitalize the city and attract people to live here without addressing the pollution emanating from the industrial corridor and the Detroit Incinerator, which are so near areas highlighted for redevelopment like Southwest Detroit and Midtown?

Anyone driving through I-75 with Marathon’s Petroleum’s tar sands refinery on one side and DTE’s coal-fired power plant and Zug Island on the other can see and smell the need for a solution. If this continues unaddressed, the DFCP will strike out like so many urban renewal plans before it.

Like another winning season without capturing the World Series, there are some promising things to celebrate in the DFCP. But wouldn’t it be nice to actually win one for a city that deserves it like no other? Missing this precious opportunity to connect with the people of Detroit’s present and future is not a winning formula. Genuinely listening to public concern is that winning formula.

Patrick Geans-Ali is a community organizer at the Sierra Club. He can be reached at patrick.geans@sierraclub.org.

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