How Long Has Flint Michigan Been Without Clean Water – Activists gather for a mile walk to demonstrate the push for clean water on February 19, 2016, in Flint, Michigan.
By now, Americans are generally familiar with the long-term tragedy in Flint, Michigan, where lead poisoning in drinking water underscores our nation’s failing infrastructure and the inadequacy of the government’s current response to public health problems. But to see Flint’s problem in its entirety, one must understand what Michigan resident and journalist Anna Clark calls the “tragedy of American cities”—a history of segregation embedded in the fabric of American cities over the centuries. In her new book,
How Long Has Flint Michigan Been Without Clean Water
, Clark digs deep into our nation’s industrial past to tell the story of Flint’s water alongside the story of our cities’ collective disaster.
The Crisis In Flint Goes Deeper Than The Water
From Flint’s origins as a highly segregated auto manufacturing center, to the “white flight” that inspired desegregation in the 1960s, to the city’s near-miss status after the closing of General Motors in the 1990s. In his post, Clark detailed Flint’s rise and fall, and how his story led to the 2014 water crisis. When Michigan brought in an emergency manager to oversee the disaster of treated water being dumped into Lake Huron, water to (poorly treated and pumped from Flint’s famous river through pipes that have not been used for decades), corrosive substances from the water came to poison the citizens of the city. But communities and the poorest communities were disproportionately affected, and it was those same communities that took so long to find justice.
Clark’s groundbreaking reporting covers every angle of the disaster, from the history of Flint that set the stage for the crisis, to the headlines that finally broke thanks to citizen scientists and local reporters forced to tackle investigative legislation themselves—all from her . including increased government coverage and medical examination. Clark talked to him
About the human stories she collected, the persistent shortcomings of emergency management, and how we should consider all this leadership in our midst.
How does the public benefit from hearing the human side of the stories you present to the everyday citizens of Flint?
The Crisis In Flint Isn’t Over. It’s Everywhere.
I drew from many interviews, research and field observations. I wanted to know what I didn’t know and give a fair hearing to different points of view. Facts, not rhetoric, tell the story. That said, I have a theory. I believe that if Watts embodies the urban crisis of the 20th century, then Flint embodies the 21st.
Listening, especially to the citizens. It was a revelation. There is wisdom there and it is worth sharing. When we talk about cities, we talk about them
. Despite all the high-profile coverage of Flint, sometimes the human stories—all their diversity and contradictions, depth and beauty—get lost in the noise. For decades this city was made invisible and its voice was denied. However, local residents constantly presented, collaborated, shared knowledge and advocated in any way they could think of. They were not victims waiting to be rescued; they were representative of their life. I just don’t want to
It is very important! “Community” can be a vague term, but when implemented, it is powerful and tangible. You see individuals and local organizations helping each other with practical needs, such as door-to-door screenings and bottled water drives. You see people working together to care for the Flint River, building playgrounds for their neighbors, organizing public events, showing up at every council and town hall meeting and planning session. You see local people with very different lives and people finding connection through a problem that is so alienating. It is healing.
Mi To Close Flint’s Free Bottled Water Sites
Flint has much to teach the nation about the value of community organizing. No one person has all the answers, nor should they have all the power. This is why transparency laws, strong independent journalism, clear environmental regulations, strong public institutions and powerful public participation are important checks against corruption.
What happened in Flint is a warning about how dangerous it is to choose exclusion over inclusion in our communities. It’s no coincidence that shrinking cities lost population right after fair housing and school desegregation became law. This process today results in exclusion of zones, resistance to regional planning and transport and, when settlements are more diverse, the development of long-distance travel. This comes at a very high cost to human dignity, as well as to the environment, infrastructure and other social systems. We try to run away from it, but the truth is, we’re all in this together. It’s been a while since we started behaving like that.
Under Michigan law, the state can appoint an emergency manager (EM) to a financially distressed city. One person has full power in the mayor’s office and city council to enact what they believe needs to be done. They have the power to make or break contracts. Although local leaders can vote on an EM after 18 months, the deadline is routinely bypassed by the resignation of an EM and then the appointment of a new one, which resets the clock. This is how Flint came to EM in three and a half years. It is also common for EMs to sign an order preventing local governments from changing their policies immediately after a state inspection is completed. It also happened in Flint.
It’s a controversial practice, and almost all Michigan communities that have received EM have a majority African-American population. This raises concerns about voting rights and how the EM law could violate the equal protection clause of the constitution.
The Flint Water Crisis And How Lead Got In The Water
State of emergency and that it is important that an outside official, not blocked by local politics, makes the tough decisions to help the city move forward. But as we saw in Flint, there is little accountability for EM when things go wrong.
Poor neighborhoods are disproportionately affected when infrastructure fails, yet almost all Americans are at the front of the lines for services. How easy is it for wealthy neighborhoods to think they are unaffected?
For nearly a century, and its toxic legacy lives on in wealthy communities with large public services. One of the worst lead water problems in history was in Washington, D.C., home to some of the most powerful people in the world! Infrastructure maintenance is often delayed, to a dangerous degree, across the country. After Flint, I saw some public leaders talking to their stakeholders to show that their water is different, better, and that a problem like Flint can only happen.
But there are patterns in poor communities and communities of color that are most at risk. I wish it didn’t take something outlandish like poisoning the entire town’s water to make us feel uncomfortable about it. Most clearly, infrastructure exposes the lies of systemic inequality and exclusionary policies. It’s a lesson we’ve learned time and time again. Whether we’re talking about waterways, roads, bike lanes, street lights or bridges, distributed systems just don’t work. These are systems. They actually work best when they are complete, inclusive
In Flint, Trust Is Lost. And Bottled Water Supplies Are Running Low.
The segregation built into our American cities has led to much of this tragedy, and you say “the cure is inclusion.” How can we make our cities more inclusive?
We need to be as intentional about interaction as classification designers as we are about classifying people. We must build compliance with our real estate policies, laws and local regulations. Let’s look at the impact of exclusion zones—multifamily housing bans, Section 8 housing, and developments where poor families and people of color live disproportionately. Let’s make a deep commitment to affordable housing—integrated with market-rate housing, not stand-alone—and steps to make communities denser and more affordable. George Romney, the former secretary of housing and urban development, experimented with suspending payments to communities operating in exclusion zones. It caused a backlash, and the Nixon administration forced it to be scaled back. But what if we looked at that style and, with a commitment to inclusion, brought it back into play?
We can also create policies, practices, and public spaces that welcome immigrants, people of different faiths, and people with disabilities. And I think we have to look at our own behavior, especially white people and the privileged few, in terms of history. Do our choices create an atmosphere of exclusion, for example, calling the police on people who don’t look like us as they go about their daily lives? Or do we reach out, strive, listen, and be intentional about planting in different areas?
I grew up in a house with lead paint and plumbing. Do you think lead is responsible for some of the health problems in this country?
Why Christians Should Be Mad As Hell About Flint
We have too much ammunition filling our built environment. Paint, plumbing, water fixtures and our sand too; Lead has been spreading around the environment like smoke for decades, and it didn’t just disappear when gasoline was taken off the market. When
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