Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The American Dream?

This is a picture from outside the Delray Community House in southwest Detroit. In the foreground you see a new playground. In the near background, you see the incinerator at the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant. Notice the brown coloured effluent coming out from the smoke stacks. That effluent made the entire neighbourhood smell noxious, so much so that many residents leave the neighbourhood for a few days every year because the heat mixed with the smell are just too much to handle. Add to this the pollution of thousands of semi-trucks, an oil refinery, a cement factory, a steel factory, and what you have is a full-blown environmental disaster.

This is Detroit, the very definition, the soul, the beginning of The American Dream.

The people of Delray (see posts under the theme "Sustainable neighbourhoods in Detroit"), and many of those still residing in Detroit and other parts of the Rust Belt, have borne the brunt, the downside of The American Dream. The American Dream - of convenience, luxury, independence (as expressed through the automobile), and disposability - was envisioned when the world was thought to be abundant and plentiful for all. As has been explored throughout this blog, however, this dream was founded most fundamentally on a materialism that has required, and continues to require, a violent disturbance of nature. And as has been reiterated again and again, any violence towards nature is automatically translated into a degraded place for life. What follows are the very worst sorts of injustices and behaviour - of discrimination, of abandonment, of negligence.

The people that haven't been able to escape the so called "decline" of the Rust Belt have been those least able to leave, because of that invisible yet profoundly tangible hand holding one back - oppression. The people of Delray know this all too well. My students and I witnessed this first-hand. It is these people (and of course, the environment) that have borne the costs of the benefits we so glibly accept as our natural rights; they continue to do so day after day. They deal with corrupt government officials, they deal with inhumane corporate officials, and most sadly, they deal with our negligence of them. Think about it. This isn't some "Third World, developing country", this is Detroit, the heart of the US, thirty-five miles from Ann Arbor, the elite college city. This is happening right under our noses, within biking distance of our homes. And we are contributing to this situation.

We like to think that it is the "developing" world that needs "sustainable development", but first, let's look in our backyards. Let's see what we are a part of that is causing such injustice towards the world, in our backyards. If we all strive to make where we live a better place by not taking advantage of other places, I believe we will be on a path towards sustainability.

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