Much of the time, when I talk about infrastructure, I get the sense that folks think I’m doing this for aesthetic reasons. For things to be ‘nice.’ And while that’s true, I think it’s important also for financial reasons. Infrastructure, be it storm drains, fire hydrants, sidewalks, alleys, utility assets and City trees are some of the most critical physical pieces of what makes neighborhoods feel inviting, safe and welcoming. But, in some ways, even more critically, the lack of coordinated investment in infrastructure in a thoughtful, systematic and concentrated fashion costs the City opportunities, slows growth, and places unnecessary burdens on residents.
The first example has to do with an alley located between East Grand Boulevard and Field Avenue in Islandview. For years, friends of mine were trying to have the City correct issues with a collapsing alley adjacent to their house. The problem was never correctly acknowledged issue. In fact, two departments, Public Works and Water and Sewerage, actively ignored it for a few years. They both said that the other department was responsible for it, and let the problem get worse and worse. The situation was a sink hole that was growing larger and larger due to a residential connection that was never properly sealed. Eventually, the homeowners ended up taking the bull by the horns, and when they were making repairs to their own connection, just took care of it in the alley. The additional cost to them was $30,000. They had no choice but to pay, otherwise they were going to lose the use of their alley. The picture below shows the alley afterwards.
Doesn’t look like $30,000 worth of work, but it never does when you’re dealing with below grade connections.
The second example has to do with a house located on Seminole in Indian Village. It caught on fire this past February, and when the Detroit Fire Department arrived (who, we might add, did so in a very timely fashion), the first two fire hydrants that they tried to hook up to didn’t work. Because of this, the fire continued to burn, in my view, unnecessarily, due to the fact that in Detroit, in Indian Village, in 2018, after emergency management and bankruptcy, we still don’t have working fire hydrants on every block in Detroit. Now, this is not to say that the fire is the fault of the City, clearly it’s not. But if they had their act together, the damage would not have been nearly as severe, as the fire would likely have been extinguished 15-20 minutes earlier. I might also add that even through the depths of the mortgage crisis and bankruptcy in Detroit, we didn’t lose a house in Indian Village. To have witnessed this level of damage to a structure in the neighborhood after experiencing both of those earlier catastrophes added insult to injury.
We didn’t have to lose the roof on this. And, even today, if you go by this site, the roof is still open to the elements. Totally unnecessary.
The third example is a personal one. About two months ago, I was driving on I-75 when I noticed that my transmission was doing something odd. It was almost as if it was cutting in and out intermittently. Now, for anyone who knows about cars, you don’t just ignore problems like that. So I immediately took it into the shop. Whereupon I was told to be glad that I didn’t have to replace the entire transmission, but just the switch. The reason: it had gotten soaked. Hm. Where might that have happened? Why, in front of my old house, on Seminole, of course. Because we get street flooding every time there’s a heavy rain because the storm drains (that we all have the honor of paying for, mind you) don’t work, it becomes necessary to dive through giant puddles that look more like ponds than anything an urban motorist should reasonably have to deal with. So, because the storm drains (again, that we pay for) didn’t work, I had the honor of paying an additional $370 for a drenched transmission switch.
This is Lake Seminole. It appears any time there’s a moderate rain. In addition to the $240 a year I paid for drainage, combined with the fact that DWSD wasn’t able to fix that in four years (2014-2018), I had to pay another $370 for automotive repairs.
I was planning on writing this piece for some time. And then, yesterday, a water main literally exploded on West Canfield Street in Midtown. It flooded the street, and I’m assuming probably some of the basements. It’s looking likely that some of the cars are going to be total losses (we’ve had storm drains take out cars on Seminole in the past before; insurance companies usually consider them total losses). It wasn’t until this last episode yesterday appeared that I actually realized every single one of my gripes had a direct link to one department: Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
I do projects with the Department of Public Works, and they’re pretty responsive (except for item one in this posting). I have a lot of asks of the General Services Department, and they’re fantastic. Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department is kind of a mess, but I’m able to get them to do their jobs, at least on occasion. And I have nothing but kind words for the Detroit Fire Department. I know that I have the reputation of being overly critical, which I think isn’t actually true. I just think I have higher expectations of how some of our departments operate.
In closing, my point is this: when we do not take care of our infrastructure, particularly our water infrastructure, there’s a real cost to it. It’s not pretty. It’s not cheap. It really, only is noticed when it doesn’t work. And I’m going to be meeting with DWSD leadership to hopefully get a green alley permitted in the West Village this coming week. The more politic thing for me to do would be to remain silent, and get that permit, and proceed. But, these issues need attention, and it’s not right that not only is the lack of a coherent infrastructure strategy holding back development, but it’s costing Detroiters money and opportunities.
In my next post, I’ll explore more about how it’ll be increasingly challenging for development to take place outside of the 7.2 square miles of downtown and midtown, and how it saps the resolve of long term, black Detroiters the most.