A Plea For Environmental Leadership in Hamtramck

In my kitchen there is a pile of clean milk cartons, collapsed cereal boxes, aluminum cans, an empty jug of laundry soap. This pile is there because it doesn’t belong in the garbage, yet I have nowhere else to put it. I used to utilize the monthly recycling pick-up station on Caniff (when I remembered and had time). More often, I drove to Recycle Here in Detroit to self-sort my recyclables. Inevitably, the outrageous generosity of our local recycling warriors has run out.
After the closure of the local drop-off, I went to Recycle Here only to learn they cannot accept products from outside of Detroit due to changes in the local and global economics of recycling. Hence, my pile grows. I could throw it out. I could sneak it into Recycle Here, or pay a free. I could drive west on Caniff across the Detroit border, find an alley with a blur recycling bin and dump my items in. I could drive to my hometown of Chelsea, where for over 30 years, reliable metal bins have stood ready to take sorted re-usables. What I cannot do, is recycle them here in Hamtramck.
It always been important to me to make sure I was minimizing my contribution to the landfills and incinerators of my community. I have lived in many states and countries, and always made sure to recycle. The only place I have had a harder time recycling was when I lived in South Africa.

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Opinion: GM’s Poletown closure proves we should treat corporations like people

Originally published in MetroTimes

There is something jarring about flipping between the news stories of General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant closing and Fiat-Chrysler’s new east side facility breaking ground. When a plant opens, public and private sectors invest together, with millions in tax subsidies, land deals, and other incentives from local government. When a plant closes, the company doesn’t pay back what they were given for one simple reason — they don’t have to. Government either needs to stay out of the “economic development” game or learn how to write some more fine print when they invest public funds. Continue reading

Lawn’s Lesson

The people I know say bad things about lawns.
They know about monoculture and monotony and suburbs.
They defend the dandelion and they weep for the weed
and dream blindly of how better times used to be.

But when I was ripping up grass in my back yard
to make room for a garden,
I put aches in every part of my back from the strain of unearthing the carpet
of earth-woven roots and green fibers. I pardoned the worms near the blade of my hoe, as they sprinkled the dark soil beneath me, and contemplated the sheer magnitude of life that I had to work so hard to eliminate.

I had to wonder if it was all a mistake- would my produce produce all the green it displaced?
Would I raze it into a barren blank space? And what is so wrong with my lawn?

If every plastic loving person in every sterile home in every cul de sac surrounded themselves with a moat of pure oxygen
they could do a lot worse. Even if they did it by accident, they could do a lot worse.

I will try valiantly to evolve beyond mere mowing to cultivate a space that nourishes my home and myself.
But if I started too late, or give up next year, if I learn that what I discarded was better than what I replaced it with,
then I’m the one who bad things should be said of.

Of all the problems with my culture, it is not lawns I am most worried about.
It is people like me who know so much about what is wrong and so little about what to do about it.

Called to Say- Marija’s Story

I met Marija twice. The first time when I was working as a property surveyor around Hamtramck. I took pictures of properties and recorded data from the sidewalk. I saw this eager woman with a strong accent standing on her porch and, before I knew it, she was dragging me by my upper arm into her front door so she could show me her water bill. Way too high, apparently. She asked me if I had a boyfriend and said I was “mental sick” when I said “no.” I loved her accent and her intimate aggressiveness. She was a funny stranger who made an impression, and that was it.

The same day that I met Marija, I met another memorable person the next street over. Strange story short- his house became my house when I moved in 18 months later. I’d forgotten all about Marija until I saw that stocky old-world frame standing at the fence of my new backyard one sunny day. Once I heard that incredible accent again, I knew she was the woman with the water bill! Continue reading

The Policy Path of Detroit’s Destruction

As published in Riverwise magazine

How state policy legalized the destruction of Detroit.

Detroit is a city with so much to lose and so little to spare. Popular narratives which attempt to describe Detroit’s struggles resort to abstract reasoning, such as the ‘invisible hand of market forces’. Other times, corporate submission to global market trends is blamed for the exodus of a once-thriving auto industry. However, when we trace the path of exploitative policy decisions at the state level in recent decades, we see that our own state laws have aided, if not forced, the hand of destruction. Detroit has suffered an inverted urban renewal process, through which homes are turned to blight, homeowners to renters, and neighborhoods to fields. This is the story of a predatory scheme that Michigan lawmakers, developers and special interests have devised during Detroit’s recent history.

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What god or scientific force
would put the sun and moon on course
to grant us an eclipse?
What trick of serendipity
would let their size appear to be
a truly perfect fit?

On other days, they square with Mars,
or some assembly of stars
in geometric rhyme.
The triangle protracts through space
then flattens, and, with winking face,
to You they do align.

A lesser mind would lie prostrate
awaiting predetermined fate
for minor mortals, we!
Another might dismiss as chance
this rare celestial mating dance
and fail to truly see.

But you and I stared at the sun,
unblinded, and we did not run
from night that dawned in day.
The lightless moon, haloed in flame,
subdued the sun, a moment, tame
but we were unafraid.

They say a line’s the shortest path
between two points, but space is vast
and beauty’s in the arc.
And those who travel by ellipse
are grander for their scenic trips
slow twirling in the dark.

Clock hands anchor from one point
two passengers, a single joint
who intersect in time.
Coincidence is all life is
and love’s the greatest gift it gives
for those who let it shine.

What randomness or holy act
would put me back along your tract
in love’s sweet gravity?
I’ll travel round the sun again.
But this time, I’ll be hand in hand
with he who’s chosen me.

Hamtramck Water Woes

Also published in the Hamtramck Review

One thing that unites all Hamtramck residents is our distress over our water bills. Bills seem to get higher and higher every year, even as we confront challenges to the quality of our water. This year, Hamtramck has simultaneously shifted toward automated water meter while reducing our ability to lower our bills by saving water. Long-standing issues are being aggravated by the threat of lead contamination and the risk of water shutoffs for those who can’t afford to meet the growing costs.

Have you ever taken the time to truly understand your water bill? You might be surprised that the biggest part of the bill is the not the water usage itself, but the sewerage charge. Next there is the water charge and, lastly, a mysterious sanitation fee, which is actually a garbage pick-up fee which some claim to be a “double tax,” since it is already covered by property taxes. Hamtramck has an ordinance which prohibits residents from challenging their water bills, so the only true choice you have is to pay or not pay, to have water or not.

In my own home, I analyzed the historical usage and costs. I found that the measured water usage in my home was the same in 2006, 2010 and 2016. The usage was the same but the cost went up from 230 in 2006, to $341 in 2010, to a whopping $676 in 2016! The increase may have been somewhat obscured by the transition from quarterly to monthly billing in 2014, but the total annual cost increased even as the individual bills went down. Continue reading

Election Day

I woke up at 6am. Very tired. I had gone to be at 2 or maybe 3 while Molly, Evan and an affable neighbor sat at the dining room table stickering and cutting papers like elves and manipulating spreadsheets. One of the elves left me a present at the bottom of the stairs- it was my assignment for which polling locations I needed to go to put down signs with my name on them. Temporary billboards.

The polls open at 7am and we wanted to have volunteers at every polling place with literature in hand, but there are over 30 locations and 13 hours of voting, so we had nowhere near total coverage. The signs would have to do.

I took a moment to sit on my front porch step and take it all in. It was dark and quiet still, I knew it would be a long day.

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Its a long way between can and do.
You’re at the strange age- not young but so new-
staring at the vastness of space from your mattress on the floor,
Praying for that small grace to rise once more.

Work another long day that ain’t working for you.
Bringing home that minimum wage is the least you can do.
Don’t you know that pain doesn’t pay-
check your baggage at the door.
Building up that small strength to smile once more

Hey Margo-o-o, its OK
you’re feeling low-low-low, so lonely.
Baby girl, you know that it happens
just sit tight till it passes.
And don’t forget its OK to be lonely.

It’s another shit date that you’re gritting through.
Hopes were high, but, no way- this cupid don’t shoot.
Can you jump your heart into beating?
Ain’t it feeling any more?
Holding out that small faith to love once more.

Hey Margo-o-o, its OK
you’re feeling low-low-low, so lonely.
Baby girl, you know that it happens
just sit tight till it passes.
And don’t forget its OK to be lonely.

(Courage my friend, you do not walk alone)