News Hits had high hopes for the sprawl conference held at the University of Detroit Mercy last Saturday, but left thinking it’s no wonder this area is such an environmental mess.
All gubernatorial candidates were invited to the event that attracted about 40 people, but only two bothered to show. Democratic candidate Alma Wheeler Smith, a state senator from Salem Township, told the gathering she wants to protect wetlands from encroaching roads and developments and that she supports Detroit. “It is time to elect a governor who will fight for the core urban areas,” said Smith.
U.S. Rep. David Bonior (D-Mount Clemens), who decried planning that focuses on cars instead of people, rattled off these stats: 60 percent of metropolitan Detroit’s freeways are congested; metro-Detroit drivers burn 248 million gallons of gas idling in traffic; the average commuter spends 10 hours per week in their car; metro Detroiters spend more on transportation than food and health care combined; and 68 square miles, or about the area of two townships, is developed each year. “That’s nuts. That’s absolutely crazy,” said Bonior. “The Bible says where there is no vision, the people will perish. … That’s why I’m running for governor.”
The event then spiraled toward the bizarre as the next speaker exclaimed, “Listen to the sound of sprawl: Oink, oink, gobble, gobble, oink, oink, gobble, gobble.” We know the loss of farmland is a consequence of land-hungry suburban growth, and appreciated University of Detroit Mercy business professor Mike Whitty’s stimulating sound effects. Whitty went on to say, “We should call for planetary citizenship now,” because nations are “out of date.” “We need to go back to Noah’s Ark, and ahead to the Yellow Submarine too,” he said, as a man in a gray suit used a pocket knife to scrape sticky stuff off the floor in the rear of the auditorium. This wasn’t what News Hits was hoping for, but maybe it’s too optimistic to think the city’s movers and shakers would turn out in droves to discuss a piddley little issue such as sprawl.Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org