Valerie Vande Panne

The Muddy Ethics of Detroit’s Water

The City’s Future Looks Grim as Access to Clean Water Becomes a Rich Person’s Commodity: My article in Zocalo.

I have friends who are optimistic about the situation, subscribing to the mantra “say nice things about Detroit” and cheerleading every new bar and restaurant and café and tweak to the city as proof Detroit is in a renaissance. Yet Detroit has been heralding itself as in a “renaissance” since the 1970s when it built a set of skyscrapers called the Renaissance Center.

And the disease Cosme refers to might just be rooted in greed. Too many people here relish the city’s dysfunction and corruption, champion the plans of the very wealthy without question, and blame the poor for being poor—refusing to look at the embedded systems that propagate that poverty.

The result: Detroit is entering a new age of feudalism.

Historically, the Renaissance was a time of leaving feudalism behind and moving into Enlightenment. As long as people lack access to clean, fresh water—and powerful people are OK with that, nay, enjoy telling them they don’t have a right to it —Detroit won’t see a renaissance, no matter how many new bars, restaurants, or cafés open.