Panel 03: Regional Evolution: Changing Cultural Landscapes in the Midwest

Abstract Title

Flowing Spaces: Detroit and the Water Crisis

Presenter Information

Daniel FawcettFollow

Start Date

13-2-2015 3:00 PM

End Date

13-2-2015 4:20 PM

Abstract

In the summer of 2014, activists in Detroit, Michigan sought the intervention of the United Nations to prevent the city from shutting off water to thousands of residents, thus bringing Detroit’s water crisis to the attention of elite media outlets and allowing protests against the water shutoffs to gain momentum. Detroit’s water issues are just the most recent example of the city eliminating public resources in response to a dwindling tax base (Ryan and Campo, 2013; BBC.com, 2014). But these official explanations for privatization and austerity policies do not hold up to further scrutiny, as the water shutoffs have targeted poor, primarily minority neighborhoods while ignoring large, corporate-owned offenders such as golf courses and sports arenas (Lukacs, 2014). This paper examines the various discourses surrounding the water shutoffs in the Detroit area and the media strategies used by activists to move the policy discussions away from “austerity,” “privatization,” and the moral failings implicit in residents with unpaid bills to a discussion of water access as a human right. By doing so, this paper hopes to outline strategies that will be useful more broadly, as privatization and austerity policies are becoming more widely accepted by urban planners and policy makers across the US.

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Feb 13th, 3:00 PM Feb 13th, 4:20 PM

Flowing Spaces: Detroit and the Water Crisis

In the summer of 2014, activists in Detroit, Michigan sought the intervention of the United Nations to prevent the city from shutting off water to thousands of residents, thus bringing Detroit’s water crisis to the attention of elite media outlets and allowing protests against the water shutoffs to gain momentum. Detroit’s water issues are just the most recent example of the city eliminating public resources in response to a dwindling tax base (Ryan and Campo, 2013; BBC.com, 2014). But these official explanations for privatization and austerity policies do not hold up to further scrutiny, as the water shutoffs have targeted poor, primarily minority neighborhoods while ignoring large, corporate-owned offenders such as golf courses and sports arenas (Lukacs, 2014). This paper examines the various discourses surrounding the water shutoffs in the Detroit area and the media strategies used by activists to move the policy discussions away from “austerity,” “privatization,” and the moral failings implicit in residents with unpaid bills to a discussion of water access as a human right. By doing so, this paper hopes to outline strategies that will be useful more broadly, as privatization and austerity policies are becoming more widely accepted by urban planners and policy makers across the US.