We represent three generations from Grosse Pointe Park who wrote a September op-ed advocating the removal of the impractical and offensive barriers that have been built over the years between Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit. We said that the barriers are symptomatic of deep and longstanding white supremacist policies, practices and attitudes in the Grosse Pointes.
And darned if shortly after our op-ed appeared we didn’t learn of a new example. It even includes yet another wall between the Park and Detroit. The wall is a design feature of a new DPW facility to be built in a residential area of the Park at Mack and Wayburn. As with most Park developments, planning had been in the works for some time and then suddenly disclosed as a done deal.
There are other manifestations of clinging to old ways in the Grosse Pointes. Hundreds of Grosse Pointe residents displaying Black Lives Matter signs in their yards received anonymous letters via the U.S. mail taking issue with their choice of that sign.
The letter was filled with disinformation and sourced from discredited sources. It essentially said that the status quo is just fine and shame on you for thinking otherwise.
Regarding the always contentious issue of the Grosse Pointe Schools, suspicious and secret funds were used to support a slate of candidates long associated with protecting white privilege in the Grosse Pointe schools.
But that is only one side of the story. What’s encouraging is that in response to the anonymous letters even more residents put Black Lives Matter signs in their yards. Despite the secret funds, half of the school board candidates backed with expensive, secret money campaigns lost.
Even more heartening, the Grosse Pointe Park City Council chose Darci McConnell, an African-American woman, to fill a vacancy on the council. Together with other changes in the City Council, we see real opportunity for more transparent deliberations and a less hostile approach to our Detroit neighbors. On the heels of McConnell’s appointment, several City Council members are expected to take part in the launch of a Diversity and Inclusion Initiative this week.
Even the hilarious response to allegations of a Grosse Pointe chapter of Antifa is an encouraging sign of growing willingness to reckon with the Grosse Pointes’ segregation and reputation.
We have no illusions though. Genuine change will be difficult. Resistance is inevitable. Loyalty to the power of white male property owner supremacy goes back more than 500 years. Churches, schools, media and families pass these values on from generation to generation.
When we responded to the proposed new wall, we got a teachable lesson in how this process works.
We quickly objected both to the plan and the secretive process at the Planning Commission meeting. Then we organized a protest with residents from both sides of the border. We were encouraged when Grosse Pointe Park City Council member Vikas Relan said at the Sept. 28 Council meeting that he would like to have a discussion on the barriers and other aspects of the Park’s relationship with Detroit during a public meeting.
The response he received from Mayor Robert Denner was both predictable and revealing. Denner informed the council that any barrier removal should first be discussed as part of the city’s pending master planning process. Ha! This was especially ironic because neither the DPW project nor a proposed Arts Center on Jefferson at Alter has been accountable to any master plan or master plan process in any way whatsoever.
Connecting the dots
It’s all of a piece: the building of barriers over the years, the sanctimonious philanthropists who create functionally whites-only movie theaters, parks and other amenities; the manipulation of the real estate market on both sides of the borders, often with taxpayer funds; the racist policing, the harassment of students of color and their parents in the schools—the whole thing. To those willing to look, it is the entire male property owner race based system writ small enough to see how the gears mesh together to keep it running generation after generation.
Just follow the laser pointer to see how it works. The alleged problem of too many Black people coming to the Esquire movie theatre on Jefferson in the 1980’s? Close it by city order in 1988 and then tear it down in 1990. Bring in the philanthropists to build first one, then a second theater for residents only at Windmill Point Park. Segregation essentially restored. No muss, no fuss.
Another example. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick won’t play ball on desired developments at Alter and Jefferson? Be patient. Things will ultimately work out. And they did. In exchange for opening the closed access to the Park from Detroit on Kercheval with a twisted fake street and a hideous work of public art, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan agreed to the delayed “improvements” at Alter and Jefferson. In other words, build a wall and make Detroit pay for it.
Slick. But just another act in a long running play. Next move—drop artist renderings of a new Art Center at the Jefferson-Alter location. Which requires turning the Detroit Public Works yard into space for parking. Then, accept failure in a sleazy attempt to move the DPW facility into Detroit on Ashland Avenue.
No matter. What for decades has been derisively called the Cabbage Patch has no political clout. The Cabbage Patch refers to the working-class homes close to the Detroit border, between Alter and Beaconsfield. It has often been subordinated to various schemes including demolishing homes to make way for parking lots that support the Cotton families’ retail and dining businesses on Kercheval. So, once again, it’s simple, just put the DPW facility in that neighborhood. They won’t be able to do anything about it.
Will this time be different?
Maybe. Despite the best efforts of the entrenched power structure, as noted earlier, things are changing in the Park. There are now many aware citizens who are scrutinizing their schemes as never before. The City Council isn’t the obsequious rubber stamp group it used to be either.
And Detroit may yet be heard from too. Specifically, as to the DPW project, the Park’s elitist power structure is blatantly violating agreements they made with east side Detroit organizations as to how the Mack Alter area should be developed with the interests of residents on both sides of Alter in mind.
The Mack Avenue Improvement Plan was published in 2018 by our neighbors at Eastside Community Network after a robust engagement process that included dozens of organizations and the Grosse Pointe Park administration. The Plan details a redevelopment approach for both sides of Mack, from Conner Avenue in Detroit to Neff Road in Grosse Pointe and has inspired further efforts that include Detroit and three of the five Pointes extending to Moross Road.
It promotes development at the border that:
- is pedestrian-oriented, with windows on the street;
- brings new tenants to the empty building on the DPW site; and
- builds new space for retail and commercial uses.
The new DPW building will do none of these.
Grosse Pointe Park will also be tearing down yet another perfectly good affordable house on Wayburn Street to make way for the DPW yard and the wall. Yet another factor in the declining enrollment in Grosse Pointe schools.
While the Mack Avenue Improvement Plan was in development, Grosse Pointe Park pledged to provide street trees on the Detroit side of Mack just east of Alter Road to match those it had just planted on the Pointe side. To date, no trees have been planted on the Detroit side of Mack – where are they?
White man speak with forked tongue
Once again, promises made, promises broken.
We are not giving up any of these fights. We see how they are all connected. We have new actions in the works. To stay in touch:
Tell the Grosse Pointe Park City Council members before their next meeting on Dec. 14, whose email addresses can be found here, what you think: https://www.grossepointepark.org/government/city_council/index.php
And let us know via the OPEN BORDERS GP-DET Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/263495187190175