Cleaning up the Great Lakes has become part of the environment platform for at least one party in Canada’s national election campaign. Canadian Prime minister Paul Martin’s liberals are promising to spend one billion dollars toward cleaning up the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
Cleaning up the Great Lakes has become part of the environment
platform for at least one party in Canada’s national election campaign.
Canadian Prime minister Paul Martin’s liberals are promising to spend
one billion dollars toward cleaning up the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence
Seaway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Karpenchuk reports:
Paul Martin says the pledge is another aspect of the Liberal party’s green
plan. Martin says the one billion dollars would be spent over ten years in
an effort to clean up toxic hot spots along the world’s largest freshwater
“By taking action we will better protect our water and our wildlife, we’ll
make our waterfronts more vibrant and healthy, and we will ensure that
the revitalization of these ecosystems stands out as our collective
Martin says half the money, about five hundred million dollars, would be
earmarked for sites that have been used for decades as a dump for
industrial and household waste. Some of the money would also go to
assessing ecological threats posed by pharmaceuticals and other
pollutants, and researching the effects of human action on these
Victoria Park seems like a neighborhood that one might see in a suburban area. But, in fact, it's located in downtown Detroit. (Photo by Nora Flaherty)
Professor Jerry Herron says that people want to live in suburban-style homes. (Photo by Nora Flaherty)
Many cities across the nation are looking to re-imagine themselves—they’re trying to become more like dense, walkable cities like San Francisco or Boston. But some people say that some cities weren’t originally designed to be like that. And people don’t necessarily want them to be. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:
Many cities across the nation are looking to re-imagine themselves. They’re
trying to become more like dense, walkable cities like San Francisco or
Boston. But some people say that some cities weren’t originally designed to
be like that, and people don’t necessarily want them to be. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Nora Flaherty has this report:
Aside from the cicadas and crickets, it’s a quiet afternoon in Victoria
park. There’s no one out on the tree-lined street, or on the large houses’
beautifully groomed front lawns.
Jerry Herron is an American Studies professor at Wayne State University. He says that this gated community has everything that people associate with suburbia.
“An artificially wind-y street, some kind of neoclassical details on the houses, a cul de sac at each end, plenty of cars in the garages, basketball hoops, all of the things that people would associate with characterstic life in suburbia. Except it’s in the middle of one of the oldest downtown industrial parts of the city of Detroit.”
Herron says that most urban planners wouldn’t expect to see a suburban-style
cul de sac right in the middle of the city.
“I think because it doesn’t look like one of those pre-arranged ideas of the city, cities aren’t supposed to look like suburban McMansions houses. Well, it turns out that that’s where people want to live, and if you build it in the city, they’ll come and buy the houses and be happy.”
That kind of thinking runs counter to what many urban planning experts might say. In fact, the success of Victoria Park might seem to be an oddity in planning circles, because most planners believe that it’s a specifically urban lifestyle that attracts people to cities, one that involves chic apartments, condos and busy streets, not lawn care and attached garages.
But Jerry Herron says that more suburban-style development is in keeping
with this city’s history.
“One of the important things about Detroit is that seventy-five percent of the people who live here – I believe that’s an accurate figure – virtually since the beginning of the city’s history, have lived in private houses, so that there’s really a dedication to this idea of private property, that they have something good, it has to be mine, it has to belong to me, which makes it very difficult then to imagine as desirable living in something I don’t own, that I have to share with other people, that I may just be renting.”
Regardless of whether they choose to live in private houses or high rise buildings, people who choose to live in the city like being able to spend less time in their cars than they would if they lived in the suburbs.
And they like the cultural attractions and diversity of the cities. And even if it might seem suburban compared to life in other cities, life in this city is still very different from life in the suburbs. Olga Savich grew up in Troy, Michigan a north-west suburb of Detroit. She now lives in a high rise building near downtown.
“I moved to the city because I just needed to get out of the suburbs, I lived
there my whole life, there’s nothing there but the mall, I didn’t
necessarily want to structure my whole life around shopping. So I moved to
the city because it seemed like it was exciting, like a new start.”
Although Savich likes the more traditionally urban aspects of the city, she
also likes the fact that there’s big open spaces, including Belle Isle park,
right in the middle of it.
“I used to walk down on a Saturday afternoon with a book and just sit on the rocks by Shane Park and you can put your feet in the water, you know, it’s really pretty. Going to belle isle, it’s almost like having your own Metropark, you know, right in your own back yard, it’s like a five-minute bike ride.”
And while a lot of people see Detroit’s big, empty urban spaces and abandoned and decaying buildings as the city’s big problem, other people are attracted to exactly those things. Jerry Herron lives in the same building as Olga Savich.
“There’s a lot of room in the middle of a city that’s 300 years old, a lot of green space in the city. And I think that people that are attracted to that kind of revitalization and the presence of significant decay find this a really exhilarating and exciting place. That abandonment attracts people, the way ruins attract people. And people who like it think it’s really unusual and unique and only Detroit looks like that really.”
Like a lot of big cities with decaying centers, Detroit is working hard to bring people in. Experts are thinking hard about what kind of cities people are looking to move to. And Herron says that anyone who’s trying to make a city like Detroit appealing to outsiders would do well to work with what the city already has, rather than trying to make it like other cities with different histories.
Urban sprawl sometimes conjures up images of subdivisions sprouting
up in cornfields. But land use experts say the term should also include a
focus on the central cities that are left behind.
(Photo by Lester Graham)
Experts seldom talk about one of the driving forces behind urban sprawl. White flight began the exodus of whites from city centers, and racial segregation is still a factor in perpetuating sprawl. In the first of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the issue that’s often overlooked:
Experts seldom talk about one of the driving forces behind urban sprawl. White
flight began the
exodus of whites from city centers, and racial segregation is still a factor in
In the first of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports on the issue that’s often
Land use advocates argue that urban sprawl and deteriorating inner cities are two
sides of the
same coin. The tax money that pays for new roads and sewer systems for sprawl and the
investments that pay for new strip malls is money that’s spent at the expense of
because it’s not invested there.
For the most part, all of that investment is made in communities that are
Those left behind in the cities are often people of color who are struggling with
high taxes to pay
for the deteriorating infrastructure and government services designed for
populations much larger
than are left today.
White flight was aided by government and business institutions. Government home
veterans of World War II that made those nice subdivisions possible didn’t seem to
make it into
the hands of black veterans. Banks often followed a practice of redlining. And
brokers also worked to make sure the races remained segregated.
Reynolds Farley is a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Population
Center. Farley says today, when planners and government officials talk about white
segregation, they talk in the past tense. They don’t like to acknowledge that
racism like that
“Well, I think there is a lot of effort to underestimate the continued importance of
discrimination and the importance of race in choosing a place to live. There’s been
decrease in segregation in the last 20 years. Nevertheless, it would be a serious
overlook the importance of race in the future of the older cities of the Northeast
Farley says as recently as two years ago a federal government study looked at real
marketing practices and found there were still “code phrases” that indicated whether
neighborhoods were white or black.
“Subtle words would clearly convey to white customers the possibility that there are
living there, the schools aren’t in good quality. And the subtle words could convey
that they wouldn’t be welcomed in living in a white neighborhood.”
In the North… racism has evolved from overt to covert. It’s a wariness between
the races not talked about in polite society. It becomes more evident as solidly
middle-class blacks begin to move into older suburbs and whites flee once again to
subdivisions even farther from the city core.
Land Use and ‘Smart Growth’ advocates say it’s time to face up to the continuing
segregation. Charlene Crowell is with the Michigan Land Use Institute. She says it
talking about the fears between white people and black people.
“By not addressing those fears, the isolation and the separation has grown. So,
until we are able
to talk and communicate candidly, then we’ll continue to have our problems.”
But it’s uncomfortable for most people to talk about race with people of another
race. Often we
don’t talk frankly. Crowell says we’ll be forced to deal with our feelings about
race sooner or
later. That’s because as more African-Americans join the middle-class, the suburbs
are no longer
“My hope is that those who feel comfortable in moving further and further away from
core will come to understand that they cannot run, that there are in fact black
are in the suburbs and moving into the McMansions just as many whites are. And we
all have to
look at each other. And we all have to understand that this is one country and we
In cities such as Detroit, white flight led to rampant urban sprawl in the
and left huge pockets of poverty and streets of abandoned houses in the inner city.
Wheeler is the Executive Director of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP. He says
constituents often worry about more pressing urban issues, he knows that it’s
African-Americans living in the city recognize farmland preservation and urban
are connected. The investment that paves over a corn field is investment that’s not
rebuild the city. But… black politicians largely have not been
involved in land use issues and usually they’re not asked to get involved…
“There is a racial divide on this particular issue. Often times African-Americans,
people of color and folk who live in the urban centers are not present at the
Wheeler says policymakers on both sides of the racial divide need to recognize that
issues are as much about abandoned city centers as they are about disappearing
which could put urban legislators and rural legislators on the same team. That’s a
that could carry a lot of sway in many states.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Urban sprawl doesn't just alter the land in the suburbs. Central
cities are affected by the loss of investment when people leave the cities
and tax dollars are instead invested in building roads and sewers in the
surrounding areas. (Photo by Lester Graham)
Concern about urban sprawl is often limited to the loss of farmland, traffic congestion, and unattractive development. But urban sprawl has other impacts. Building the roads and sewers to serve new subdivisions uses state and federal tax money, often at the expense of the large cities that are losing population to the suburbs. In the second of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham looks at the divide between city and suburb:
Concern about urban sprawl is often limited to the loss of farmland, traffic
congestion, and unattractive development. But urban sprawl has other impacts.
Building the roads and sewers to serve new subdivisions uses state and federal tax
money, often at the expense of the large cities that are losing population to the
suburbs. In the second of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
looks at the divide between city and suburb:
What some people call urban sprawl got started as the federal government’s answer to
a severe housing shortage. There wasn’t a lot of building going
on during the Great Depression. At the end of World War II, returning GIs needed
Reynolds Farley is a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Population
Studies Center. Farley says the federal government offered veterans low-interest
loans and developers started building modest homes on green lawns on the edge of
cities. But because of discrimination, the loans didn’t as often make it into the
hands of African-American veterans. Instead of segregated neighborhoods in the
city, segregation lines were newly drawn between city and
“Very low-cost mortgages accelerated the movement of whites from the central city
out to the suburbs… built upon the long racial animosity that characterized cities
beginning at the time of the first World War and continuing, perhaps up to the
With segregation, there was a shift of wealth. Farley says jobs and purchasing
power were exported to the suburbs with the help of the interstate highway system.
And big new shopping centers displaced retail in downtowns.
People with low-incomes, often people of color, were left behind in cities of
abandoned houses and vacant storefronts that often didn’t have enough tax base to
maintain roads and services.
John Powell is a professor at Ohio State University. He’s written extensively on
urban sprawl and its effects on urban centers.
“So, we move jobs away, we move tax base away, we move good schools away and then
the city becomes really desperate and they’re trying to fix the problems, but all
the resources have been moved away.”
With no way found to fix the cities, whites have been moving out of cities to the
suburbs for decades. And now, middle-class blacks are moving out too. For some
metropolitan areas, leaving the city has become a
matter of income… although Powell says even then African-Americans have a more
difficult time finding a way out.
“Race never drops out of the equation. In reality, even middle-class blacks don’t
have the same mobility to move to opportunity that even working-class whites do
because of the way race works in our society.”
So, segregation continues. But now the line is drawn between middle-class blacks in
the older, inner-ring suburbs, whites in the outer-ring suburbs… and for the most
part in cities such as Detroit, poorer blacks left behind in the central city.
Smarth Growth advocates say part of the answer to urban sprawl is finding a way to
get more money back into the central-cities to make them more attractive to
everyone. That’s worked in cities such as Portland, Oregon and Minneapolis-St.
Paul. But those cities and their suburbs are predominantly white. For Northern
cities with greater racial divides, cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St.
Louis and Detroit it’s different. A lot of white suburbanites don’t want tax
dollars going to blacks in the city. And African-Americans in the city don’t see
urban sprawl as their issue, so ideas such as tax revenue sharing for a metropolitan
region are not a priority. The issue of regional tax equity that
works in predominantly white regions… becomes muddied by racial animosity in
“Buzz’ Thomas is state senator in Michigan who has taken on the issue of urban
sprawl and its counterpart, the deterioration of city centers. Senator Thomas says
if state legislatures can’t find an answer to help cities, sprawl in the suburbs
will continue, paving over green space and farmland.
“You know, poverty and jobs and access to health care and access to quality
education are very realistic issues for cities like Detroit. But, a reality is they
go hand-in-hand with sprawl. As your black middle-class moves out of the inner city
because they’re not satisfied with those resolution to those issues. You know, it
Senator Thomas says legislators from rural areas and from urban areas are beginning
to realize they have a common issue. But before they can get to discussions of
regional tax equity, they first have to talk about the more difficult issue of
“And have a discussion that might make me uncomfortable, that might make those
that I discuss it with uncomfortable. Only then, I think, can we really adequately
figure out how long it’s going to take us to resolve that issue.”
In the meantime, many cities are still losing population and revenue. Suburbs
continue to sprawl. And farms are becoming subdivisions, retail strip malls and
fast food restaurants.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.