Sometime long ago, it was my intention to start off my blog writing for this semester by making our readers aware of a community on that truly lives on the edge of acceptable human conditions but lies only 45 minutes away from campus. I forgot about it at first, but now I will take a little time to tell you about Delray.
I was brought there by a course on Sustainable Urbanism I took last semester. The goal of the two weeks we spent in Detroit last May was to conduct a case study of the Delray area in the southwest of the city and help residents of the area develop a unified vision for the reestablishment and development of their community. The funds for this redevelopment are to come from the New International Trade Crossing (the new bridge between Winsor and Detroit) that is projected to land in Delray if it gets built.
What we found was a community devastated by it disconnection from the rest of Detroit, by past and current industrial activity, and by pollution. Cut off from now reviving parts of the city such as Mexican town and Hubbard Richard by I-75, Delray lies along the Detroit River (or at least it used to before industries took over the water front). Surrounded by the interstate, truck depots, the city’s notorious waste water treatment plant, a US Steel plant and the Marathon oil refinery (yes it is the only oil refinery inside the limits of a major city) is a residential neighborhood. Once crowded streets now see vacancy rates of 70-85%, but who can blame those who have left? There is a constant odor in the air caused by something that gave many of us headaches after a few hours of being there. The place is used as dumping ground and when the cops are called to control it they don’t show up for a few days. Cancer rates are high, unemployment is higher, the ground is so polluted you can’t build on it, schools are far and there few assets close by–but people are still people living there.
Our time in Delray was brief and our impact small, but if the only thing we came away with was the knowledge of this place then our time was well spent. We came with questions, but left with more, none of which I will try to answer here. How can a place like this exist in the United States? What drives people to stay in a place they have every reason to leave? How was Delray forgotten? It also showed me that if you throw away all the hippie crap about saving the environment and living more sustainably you can still find people who are devastated by the way in which we use our resources and pollute our environment.
Perhaps in the next few years Delray will disappear or return to the thriving community it once was, but the questions its current state raises should not be forgotten. If you are cruising through southwest Detroit on I-75 I encourage you to get off at Springwells St. Go south of the interstate past Fort St. and have a look (but do it during the day). While you’re down there explore the rest of Detroit to. It’s a cool place!
(Photo via Environ302.2011)