Detroit residents and civic groups protesting water shutoffs (text by Philip Verma) Sustainability is a buzzword in contemporary urban policy circles but the desire to remake cities can implicate authoritarian planning practices in which community needs are subjugated to desires of property developers. This confrontation of so-called sustainable development and community rights is currently playing out in Detroit, a city that is sometimes considered a “blank slate” for innovative urban sustainability projects. Since March of this year, more than 15,000 Detroit residents have had their water turned off by the city. The Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD) claims these shutoffs are a necessary way to enforce collections on delinquent accounts. This is a charade, part of a larger pattern of privatization and gentrification in Detroit, as many community activists have pointed out. Furthermore, we should question what kind of sustainability demands mass displacement and the suspension of democratic rights as prerequisites. The shutoffs are not about financial or environmental sustainability; instead they are a way to get rid of long-time residents—predominantly poor and Black—so that the whiter, wealthier new wave can enjoy a greener, cleaner, smoother city.
22 August, 2014