Fighting for Better Outcomes in Delray
P.O. Box 32182
Detroit, Michigan 48232
Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition formed in response to plans for an international bridge development in the Delray neighborhood. Better park maintenance and a safer environment for local kids will help remedy the impact.
For the better part of a decade, families in Detroit's Delray neighborhood have lived with the prospect of having their lives uprooted by a proposed $2.1 billion
international bridge project.
Seven years ago, residents and area organizations formed the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition to help prepare the community to face impacts from a 170-acre customs plaza and expansion of I-75 linked to the undertaking.
In addition to this development, residents of the neighborhood are also dealing with the challenges of living in an impoverished, heavily polluted district that’s already experienced factory closings and long-term population decline.
About 600 people, approximately 250 families, stand to be displaced by buyouts, according to the coalition. Delray, a multiethnic neighborhood made up of a mix of Latino, white and African American residents, has a population that numbered 2,783 people
in the 2010 census.
The proposed bridge, the New International Trade Crossing, would link up Detroit with Windsor, Canada, offering a direct connection between I-75 and Canada's Highway 401. Formerly known as the Detroit International River Crossing, the project dates back to 2004, when the U.S. and Canada first began their study of a new river crossing. Delray was chosen
"Other communities up and down the river had said 'No' to this project and so did Delray, but all arrows were pointing to Delray that it was coming," says Simone Sagovac, the coalition’s program director.
U.S. site for the bridge in 2008.
The coalition, made up of local residents and as well as groups like the First Latin-American Baptist Church of Detroit
and the Southwest Detroit Business Association
, sprung up in response to these plans.
"Other communities up and down the river had said 'No' to this project and so did Delray, but all arrows were pointing to Delray that it was coming," says Simone Sagovac, the coalition’s program director. “That's why the community took the position that the best thing to do was to fight for the best outcomes possible with the bridge coming to community."
Early on the coalition requested the whole community should be offered buyouts because it believes emissions from thousands of trucks on top of pre-existing environmental impacts would be too detrimental for local families. Federal law doesn’t allow buyouts outside of the footprint, so its focus has shifted to pushing for fair treatment and a sustainable community for everyone.
Canada’s government is expected to begin buying up properties
in Southwest Detroit later this year, according to the Windsor Star. Families haven’t had any formal negotiations yet, but the coalition has assembled a team of legal organizations to assist residents both before and after any purchases take place.
As the coalition's name suggests, it is also advocating for community benefits to assure quality of life for residents as a remedy to the impacts of the project. Besides addressing pollution related to truck traffic and access to jobs for local residents, the coalition is pushing for something that’s sure to be of interest for local families with kids: parks and improved city services.
“Over the course of time, the parks around the community, they just stopped being serviced. They don't exist,” says Sagovac. “There's one recreation center at the far west end of Delray. It’s the only place where kids have to play.”
That one rec center is the Delray Neighborhood House
, a city-owned building run by People’s Community Services
. It’s a place where youth can get involved in soccer and other activities. The organization’s executive director, Tom Cervenak, is a board member for the coalition.
Despite this one ray of sunshine, Sagovac paints a stark picture for neighborhood kids. In addition to unmaintained local parks, she says police rarely patrol the neighborhood and that scrapping and dumping are rampant, posing a major safety
Sagovac paints a stark picture for neighborhood kids. In addition to unmaintained local parks, she says police rarely patrol the neighborhood and that scrapping and dumping are rampant, posing a major safety risk for local children.
risk for local children. The latter is something the coalition has tried to address by organizing regular neighborhood cleanups, but this has proved to be expensive and difficult due to the constant dumping of tires and other trash.
“With the specter of the bridge coming over the past 10 years, everyone turns away from addressing the issues, saying it is some other jurisdiction's problem. The city has said it's the state's and visa versa,” says Sagovac. “Now the state says Canada is in the drivers' seat –
and the media continually repeats: ‘it's an industrial area’ and ‘no one lives there’ –
despite there being 2,000 people who will remain after the approximately 600 will be relocated.”
Younger Latino families have also been moving into the neighborhood, she adds, driving home the importance of community benefits not just for those who remain in Delray, but also for those who would relocate there.
Although, the coalition has yet to win formal community benefits, Sagovac says they are mentioned in the international agreement
between the U.S. and Canada on the bridge, to be part of the bridge bidding process.
“We know that language wouldn’t be in there if we hadn’t been working together and meeting with the decision makers and arguing for the community,” she says, “but at the same time it doesn’t say concretely: ‘What are the guarantees? Who gets to decide what those community benefits are and what are those community benefits? We still have a ways to go.’”