Kianna Marquez: How seeking a meaningful life starts with incremental change

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - 4:21pm

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The Michigan Daily

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want to be doing when I leave college for the real world. As a freshman, I’m going to have to decide soon which undergraduate degree to pursue so I can have an idea of the classes I will need to take in the upcoming semesters. Just the other day, things started to click. I finally conceptualized what my ultimate career goals are, but at the cost of informing myself about a phenomenon that is on its way to tear our communities apart: environmental gentrification, which is when policies that are intended to service the climate drive up property costs.

Today, the lawmakers of many metropolitan areas are seeking to improve the quality of life by urbanizing sectors that are underdeveloped. For instance, Detroit’s Planning and Development Department has created several initiatives to improve infrastructure, economic opportunity and neighborhood relations over recent years. Federal and local lawmakers have also demonstrated their awareness for the need to execute green urban development in the process, making strides toward the construction of more greenways and conservancies within the heart of the downtown area.

Despite these strides, I fear that Detroit politicians are conducting urban development in a way that prioritizes profit for corporations over the needs of the populations who live near these new projects. Whether these projects feature impressive man-made infrastructure or large-scale natural attractions, the possibility of creating an attraction just to draw people into the metropolitan area seems to promote gentrification. If so, the actions of our authorities would contribute more to the capitalistic side of the economy rather than the health of the environment or the wellbeing of the people living in that area. As a result, I fear that perpetual gentrification, whether it occurs due to the development of commercial areas or natural preservations, will create further economic and social turmoil for Detroit.

In New York City, the High Line, a former railroad line, was renovated to serve as greenway on which pedestrians can walk for miles throughout the city. Having completed its final renovations in 2014, the High Line has attracted nearly five million residents and tourists for its walkway, artistic commissions and events. As a result, the greenway has undoubtedly caused an increase in economic activity, profits for businesses that surround it and thus in the price of the surrounding real estate. Unfortunately, this has caused those on the disadvantaged side of gentrification to feel its effects: Many have had to leave their home in nearby neighborhoods or been forced to give up their small businesses due to the growth of commercial demand.

In an effort to create a piece of infrastructure that would make the city appear greener both visually and characteristically, authorities in New York utilized wealthy and resourceful benefactors to create a monument to receive more money and unintentionally transform the socioeconomic character of the area. Greenways like the High Line that defeat the purpose of greener metropolitan areas are being constructed in numerous locations worldwide. I fear that ours in Detroit, the Dequindre Cut, will have a similar fate. These gestures to renovate current infrastructure into green infrastructure mean well, but to what extent should we demand that they also help the surrounding environment and populations?

For one, I think it’s absolutely possible for us to demand better from project developers, lawmakers and monetary contributors to create more mindful urban developments than the greenways. These projects can prioritize success for a sector of society that needs it more. In essence, authorities with control of metropolitan areas should adopt a progressive method deemed as "conscious anti-gentrification" when pursuing green urban development.This process would consist of renovating technology and infrastructure incrementally, allowing the public to maintain a lifestyle they’re comfortable with while making small changes to mitigate the consequences of peoples' typical impact on the environment. As a result, our neighborhoods should benefit from improvements made to the quality of the environment as well as to the well-being of the general public without making drastic changes to its own socioeconomic character.

In hearing about the downfalls of green urban development, I felt within myself a burning passion to prevent this type of economic flourishing that occurs at the degradation of the lives of people in my community and that occurs with ignorance towards our environment. In essence, I found meaning in a type of career directed towards the development of disadvantaged communities by way of incremental change. Therefore, I believe authorities should fulfill their intentions of urban growth by designing methods of change that specifically address the needs and utilize the advantages of that area rather than diminishing it by some overwhelming economic feat. In doing so, I foresee these authorities achieving a society balanced by the rise of all of the people it encompasses.

Kianna Marquez can be reached at kmarquez@umich.edu.