Governments As Blockbusters
The West End politicos and activists in Sandwich will have to start asking themselves some tough questions as well. They really will have to look in the mirror one day and ask themselves if they've been played as total suckers. Perhaps Councillor Postma may have to revise her suggested Blockbuster Resolution.
No one seems to care I guess that hundreds of families and businesses will have to be moved out of Delray to make way for a new DRIC bridge. Once the final location is determined in Windsor, we'll see how Sandwich is sandwiched. When there are no Schwartz tunnels for Sandwich, who will cry for residents?
But let's not talk about our side, let's talk about the US side. The Detroit publication, Metro Times, just ran a story on the activist, John Nagy, moving out of Delray. I'll post a copy of that story below and then comment on it.
You remember John Nagy don't you. I've mentioned him in my Blogs several time. He is the guy who said about DRIC:
- "When the DRIC project first came to Delray, only a few people showed up at a meeting. He took it upon himself to inform the community of all the latest developments and the upcoming meetings. He made sure MDOT had a mailing list for Delray, and he himself went house-to-house, wrote addresses down, and submitted them to MDOT...He stressed that it is unfair to characterize the MDOT/DRIC team as a “villain.” The DRIC process always let an individual say what needs to be said.
He noted that the MDOT/DRIC team has been more than open with the community."
- "But lately Nagy, a retired machine operator who's lived in the neighborhood his entire 51 years, has become excited by a proposed project he hopes will spur nascent redevelopment efforts...
You'd think Nagy and other community leaders would be dead set against funneling thousands of semis spewing diesel fumes through their neighborhood every day. But the promise of development dollars has helped win them over...
MDOT officials have met frequently with residents, promising to sweeten the pot if and when a bridge is built. At 23 public meetings conducted so far in southwest Detroit, agency director Kirk T. Steudle and study director Mohammed Alghurabi have sat with residents in community centers and high school gyms, answering questions and seeking input. They promised the agency would help bring housing and commercial redevelopment to the neighborhood, showing pictures of varying styles of residential buildings, cultural attractions and business projects, asking residents which would be most welcome.
At first, Nagy says, he had no intention of agreeing to an international crossing running through his neighborhood. But after hearing MDOT's promises, his opinion changed.
"I think, overall, the bridge is a win-win situation," he says. "It's going to do away with a lot of blight and contaminated properties."
- "C. Bob Benson noted revitalization of the community is not MDOT’s responsibility. MDOT will make recommendations; it will be someone else’s responsibility to implement those plans. Some people may have the impression that MDOT is going to lead the revitalization of the area.
- R. Mohammed Alghurabi noted MDOT is responsible for the DRIC study. And MDOT will be responsible to build the new bridge, plaza and interchange, if the project is approved. He noted MDOT will need partners to revitalize Delray.
- Q. What will it take to implement the conceptual land use plan for Delray that the DRIC Study Team proposed?
A. It will take a partnership among many units of government, including the City of Detroit, and the private sector. MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration can serve as a catalyst and make some but not all the investments. And, the DRIC Study Team believes it will take 20 to 25 years to fully revitalize Delray as portrayed in the conceptual land use plans."
To me it is a tragedy about how people are being used as pawns in this border matter. Take my friend in Delray as an example. She has a large house there. What's it worth, perhaps $20-30,000. Add in, say another 25%, because of the taking by MDOT and she will get slightly under $40,000 at most. Other people with smaller homes, and Nagy said that some are worth around $8,000, might be lucky to get around $10-15,000. Now tell me where are they going to move?
That's a pretty simple question... I wonder when a representative from MDOT will answer it. I wonder if MDOT has stopped showing all of the lovely artists' renditions of what Delray could become now that reality is sinking in. I know it's an academic question for us on this side of the river but I'd be curious if someone here could make a stab at answering that question as well.
We can huff and puff about saving the heritage of Sandwich but I don't see anyone trying to save the heritage of Delray from our side.
Someone needs to explain as well frankly why Sandwich should be saved and not Delray. After all wasn't the Ambassador Bridge proposal kicked out of the DRIC process because no one side of the river was supposed to be hurt more than the other.
Of course, both Sandwich and Delray could be saved if the Enhancement Project was built since it does not require any more land in either community. For some reason however, that isn't accepted as a viable solution. I can't figure this one out either.
Here's here's the magazine story. I'll have some comments about it afterwards and let you know what the significance of it is:
- "The last stink
A community activist calls it quits in Detroit
by Curt Guyette
John Nagy has been alive for 53 years, and every one of them has been spent living in Delray. Until now. A well-known grassroots activist, Nagy has pulled up stakes, moving from his lifelong neighborhood on Detroit's southwest side to Monroe's Frenchtown Township. He's left the community where he was born and attended school, moving from the house on Bacon Street he and three brothers grew up in and continued to live in as adults. And, most importantly for those who remain behind, he's left the community he's been trying to better for decades.
All that history and all the points of connection that come with it are being left behind because Nagy's finally fed up with a city he says doesn't care about the neighborhood he loves.
"I hit a brick wall," he says.
The breaking point came in the form of a composting facility that moved into southwest Detroit last year and received final approval from the City Council on a 5-4 vote earlier this year. Nagy and others complain that the facility produces a nauseating smell — one he can easily distinguish from the other foul odors that also plague the neighborhood, like the stink that comes from the city's wastewater treatment plant located nearby, or from the diesel fumes belched by big semis that roll through the area day and night.
"C'mon," says Nagy, "let's go for a ride and I'll show you what I'm talking about."
We took a similar ride back in January, when Nagy was still fighting the composting facility. On that trip he pointed out efforts by people in the community to make improvements to their homes, a new porch here, new siding there and a fresh paint job at another spot. He also pointed out the challenges, but the emphasis was on highlighting the reasons to be optimistic in a neighborhood that, at last count, had about 4,000 residents.
This time out, the rose-colored glasses were gone. Around the corner from his house is the long-closed McMillan Elementary, which Nagy says was purchased a few years ago. "Look at it now," he says. "It's wide-open. There's no boards on the windows. Anyone can get in." Land around the building has been turned into a dumpsite.
"I've made numerous complaints to the city about this," he says, "but nothing's been done."
He makes a right-hand turn and points to a line of doors leaning against a chain-link fence enclosing a yard strewn with junk. It's another source of complaints that have gone unaddressed. "I turned that one in three years ago," says Nagy.
Farther down the block he points to another house. "That guy's running a used appliance business out of there. The city just lets him do it."
He turns the corner and goes down another street until he gets to a mound of trash and junk several feet high. Since the city cut back to doing bulk trash pickup once every three months, three pickup cycles have come and gone without the garbage pile getting hauled away.
"It's just gotten to the point where I'm tired of fighting battles I can't win," he says before pulling in front of an abandoned, vacant house with the exterior brick gone.
"I called the city's Buildings & Safety Engineering Department as the guys were actually there stripping the bricks, and they [B&SE] told me they didn't have enough inspectors to send anyone out. And the guys were right there, stealing the bricks."
At the end of the tour, Nagy stops at a yard at the end of his block. It's enclosed by chain-link fence, has trees and shrubs and roses. It used to be an abandoned eyesore sitting next to one of Nagy's rental homes. He simply took control of the property, spending a few thousand dollars to landscape it before eventually acquiring it from the city. In the yard sits a large wooden sign, painted blue with gold letters that announce: "Welcome to Delray." He built the sign and planted it in the ground, he says, "Because I've always been proud to be from Delray."
It is hard to calculate what it costs a community like Delray to lose a John Nagy, but his move out certainly comes with a price to be paid by those who remain.
"John leaving is an incredible loss," says Lisa Goldstein, executive director of the group Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision. A frequent ally, Nagy took a lead role in assisting Goldstein's group in the battle against the composting facility.
"I also understand why he came to the point where he felt like he was beating his head against he wall," says Goldstein. As with other problems in the community Nagy points out, Goldstein says it has been a struggle getting the city and state to keep odors at the compost site in check.
"I'd say enforcement has been fairly minimal," observes Goldstein.
As a result, Nagy feels particularly bad for his neighbors, many of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes. Unable to afford air conditioning, they have to leave their windows open on hot summer nights, when the stink is often at its worst.
That kind of concern will surely be missed, says Thomas Cervenak, executive director of the nonprofit Peoples Community Services. The organization is concerned with the provision of social services to people in the area's needy neighborhoods; Nagy serves on its board of directors.
"The thing about John," says Cervenak, "is that he's always clear on his agenda, which is the betterment of his community. For some activists, they are active to see what they can get out of it. Not John. All he's been interested in is to make sure his community thrived as best as possible."
Nagy's departure doesn't represent a total break from his community — he intends to remain involved with Peoples Community Services and promises to remain active on other issues, but his move out raises anew a basic question about Delray today: Located as it is in an industrial zone, should it continue to be a residential area at all?
"The city is trying to have its cake and eat it too," says City Council President Kenneth Cockrel Jr. Continuing to allow new industry to move into an area where residents are already shouldering more than their fair share of polluters, and at the same time selling city-owned property to new homeowners, doesn't make sense, he says.
He thinks the best plan might involve relocating homeowners, but that takes money the city doesn't have. And even if a funding source were found, some residents would fight leaving.
"There are folks living there who have their roots planted pretty deep, folks who are not going to go no matter what," says Cockrel.
It always seemed like John Nagy would be one of those people.
Interestingly, try and find a word in that article about the DRIC bridge. There isn't one. The issue is a composting facility, not a bridge with thousands of trucks over it. With all of his opposition to the Ambassador Bridge and his support of DRIC, there is nothing in there about the border issue. And Metro Times has not been shy about its opposition to the Ambassador Bridge Company.
If you were a resident of Delray and you found out that the famous community activist was leaving town, wouldn't you be concerned too? If he could go after saying that he was never going to move, why should you stay? Would you start looking for someone who would buy your property? Would you start begging MDOT to buy your house or perhaps some speculator who is looking to make a 25% profit on the price that he pays?
Here is a key line in that story:
- "Located as it [Delray] is in an industrial zone, should it continue to be a residential area at all?"
Let's destroy Delray. It doesn't deserve to be a residential area any longer. That's what John Nagy's leaving means. If Nagy goes, it must mean the Community is doomed so everybody better go and leave the land vacant for a new bridge. The people don't matter; just the Governments' objective does.
How does the American concept of "Environmental Justice" fit in with all of this?
And if you don't think that the game is the same in Windsor, then your head is buried so far in the sand it will never come out.