First up is the Detroit Municipal Waste Incinerator, a hotly contested fixture of the city’s landscape since 1986, when it was spearheaded by then-mayor Coleman Young. Considering the environmental implications of burning waste, and the fact that the price this facility charges to turn a ton of trash into energy exceeds the price to dump it in a landfill, the incinerator is not seeing much action these days—which will likely continue in 2014 as Detroit looks to privatize waste collection.
Our bus drove along Grand Boulevard—sadly, so longer so grand but instead intermittently dotted with homes in various states of ruin—by the former Packard plant, the sprawling 3.5 million square foot abandoned factory complex designed by Albert Kahn for the Packard car company. Estimates to demolish the building hover around $20 million, so that hasn’t happened yet. In the meantime, scrappers routinely chip away materials from the building—much to the chagrin of the preservationists who hope to save it. A late-breaking news blurb: Jill Van Horn, a doctor from Texas, recently won a frenzied bidding war for the plant with an offer of a little over $6 million, and word trickled out today that she hopes to develop the site into a production plant for modular homes and offices. It is left to be seen if she can produce the funds.
Staying on Grand until its end, we crossed the bridge to Belle Isle, Detroit’s 902-acre island park, which sits in the Detroit River straddling the U.S. and Canada. Still owned by the city, Belle Isle’s visible decay is a metaphor for the city’s dwindling tax base and resultant lack of funds for public services and spaces. Detroit’s Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, has indicated that it’s time the state took over ownership—a plan that seems to be moving forward and would invest at least $10 million into the park.
In contrast to the ruins seen throughout the trip, we drove by some small-scale urban farm projects, one of the efforts injecting life back into Detroit. With such plentiful land (although I didn’t get to ask whether there was a soil testing/remediation process at work), urban farms have sprouted up all over the city, and a 150-acre hardwood farm development called Hantz Woodlands was just green-lit by Governor Rick Snyder.
Our bus whizzed by the Marathon Petroleum refinery in southwest Detroit and its notably barren surrounding neighborhood. We learned that single family homes used to stand on the site, which Marathon will be developing into a green buffer zone—and offered residents a minimum of $50,000 per home to relocate. The Marathon plant was expanded and upgraded a few years ago to be able to process crude oil from tar sands and also scale up its production, but like the Incinerator, it has faced criticism from environmentalists—and it hasn’t helped that it’s located in Detroit’s most polluted zip code, 48217.
On the subject of pollution, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Ron Allen’s poem, “Incinerator”:
You can’t dial 1-800-NO-BREATH
to save you
from toy box
You can’t dial 1-800-NO-BREATH
to save you.
All the lines are busy.
No one’s at home to issue new