Southeast Michigan is a really fascinating place to live. Being a busy graduate student sometimes makes it difficult to get out and explore the area. Fortunately, the University of Michigan provides various opportunities for students to explore the area.
I am currently taking an environmental promotion course and have been reading about environmental justice issues around the country. I was excited to hear about a tour of Detroit focusing on environmental issues. Having lived in Detroit, I have heard from neighbors and coworkers about some of these issues but I wanted to find out more. So on a beautiful fall Saturday, myself and about 30 or so University of Michigan School of Public Health students and faculty filled a bus and took off to D-Town.
Michigan Central Station in Detroit
Professor Stuart Batterman from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and Reynolds Farley from Population Studies Center narrated as we went through various neighborhoods of Detroit. There was so much discussed during the tour that it would be too long to list everything I learned, but I will tell you some facts that I thought were most interesting:
- Detroit is where mass production of low-cost reliable local transportation was perfected. Arguably no technological development of the Twentieth Century produced more social, economic and geographic change than the automobile.
- Perhaps only New York and Chicago have more extensive arrays of architecturally significant building and public sculpture than Detroit. Detroit has a magnificent collection of buildings and sculptures illustrating the work of 19th-an 20th century architects
- Despite it’s glorious history of prosperity, technological innovations, striking buildings, and creativity in the arts and music, Detroit became the most negatively stereotyped city in the country following the bloody racial violence that killed 43 residents in July, 1967
We also passed through and learned about various industrial sites of environmental justice relevance; including:
1, Detroit Municipal Waste Incinerator
2 Ford’s River Rouge Plan
3, The Marathon Oil Refinery
What was interesting to me was the concentration of industrial sites in Detroit. Many of them are also located in residential areas or near neighberhoods where children and elderly populations reside. As a public health student, I am interested in the health impact of living near these sites. It’s said, for example, in Delray, one of the neighborhoods in SW Detroit, asthma rates are 3 times the national average. Groups like Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice work to protect communities living near these sites. They work to make sure that these sites are being monitored and are following regulations.
Overall, the tour did a great job of touching on the history, politics and environmental justice issues of Detroit. Detorit has such a complex history and political delimas that I encourge everyone to learn about Detroit and Southeast Michigan in general.