Where was the environment in Duggan’s State of the City?

While the mayor touched on serious problems like gun violence, he failed to mention air pollution, basement flooding, water shutoffs, or the power outages that left thousands of Detroiters in the dark recently.

Mayor Mike Duggan delivered a relentlessly positive State of the City address from the Michigan Central Station Tuesday, touting rising property values, falling unemployment, and new businesses moving to the city. 

But while the mayor touched on serious problems like gun violence, he failed to mention air pollution, basement flooding, water shutoffs, or the power outages that left thousands of Detroiters in the dark over the last two weeks.

Duggan addressed some quality-of-life concerns that fit in with his overall development theme, like the buildout of the Joe Louis Greenway, a planned 27.5-mile walking and biking path that he said was “about the neighborhoods that have been forgotten”. 

Yet he also mentioned the Stellantis expansion on the east side of Detroit, which has meant more air pollution for a city recently declared the nation’s top “asthma capital” by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Former Detroit City Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-Lopez told Planet Detroit in 2021 that Duggan “lacks vision” when addressing environmental concerns.

“(The) solution to everything is not just the creation of jobs,” she said.

In the years since she made these statements, Detroit has made some progress on water shutoffs and basement flooding, instituting the Lifeline water assistance plan and Basement Backup Protection Program. But the Lifeline plan has struggled to get help to the thousands of people currently on a waiting list, and the flood prevention program is behind schedule.

Duggan also defended billionaires like the Ilitches and the Morouns, who have a history of accumulating blight violations on their extensive property holdings. In the case of the Morouns, he said they had been behind the effort to save Michigan Central Station, although they had also allowed it to sit vacant for two decades.

This praise was a part of the case Duggan was building for tax abatements, incentives used to entice corporations like Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis to locate projects within the city. 

Robert Shobe, a resident of Beniteau Street on Detroit’s East Side, has been dealing with pollution from Stellantis’ Mack Ave. Plant in his neighborhood for years wonders why the companies receiving this assistance aren’t required to do more to protect those nearby. 

“I think the mayor feels like the people in this neighborhood are not important,” Shobe said in 2021. “He just runs over people like us.”

Duggan’s speech did address some neighborhood concerns, like efforts to demolish and rehabilitate abandoned buildings. But the transit advocacy group Transit Riders United criticized his brief remarks on improving bus service by putting an additional 100 buses on the road. 

In a recent blog post, the group argued that the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) isn’t paying drivers enough and is “running only two-thirds of already limited pre-pandemic bus service–less than any other major city in the country.”

When they endorsed the mayor’s reelection bid in 2021, the Free Press Editorial Board, praised his handling of the COVID pandemic and said “Duggan has always been at his best in a five-alarm crisis.” 

However, some crises may seem more urgent to this administration than others. Nick Schroeck, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, criticized Duggan’s slowness in discontinuing water shutoffs at the start of the pandemic. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown recently argued the department needed to begin shutting off water again in order to increase payments.

And the climate crisis, which received no mention in the State of the City, could again wreak havoc on Detroit, where many residents are especially vulnerable to flooding and extreme heat. Southeast Michigan has seen two billion-dollar floods in the last decade, driven by extreme precipitation that climate scientists say will become more common in the Midwest. 

Extreme weather and an aging electrical grid have also knocked out power for Detroiters for days, with some outages in the area lasting for more than a week. Brian Stone Jr., a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of City and Regional Planning, warned that a simultaneous blackout and heat wave could lead to more fatalities in Detroit than Hurricane Katrina caused in New Orleans.

“These are life and death issues that we’re dealing with because of climate change,” Schroeck said. “It’s just a matter of time until it happens.”


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