12 July 2024
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Uncovering Flood Risk Disparities in Detroit

In 2021, metro Detroit faced a catastrophic rainstorm that led to significant damage and prompted President Joe Biden to declare a major disaster. This event highlighted the vulnerability of the region to flooding, a problem exacerbated by aging stormwater infrastructure and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change. However, a deeper investigation into the factors contributing to flood risk disparities in Detroit reveals a hidden contributor: ghost streams and wetlands.

Ghost streams and wetlands are remnants of waterways that have been buried or filled in over time as urban areas developed. Research conducted by experts at the University of Michigan-Dearborn found that Detroit has removed more than 85% of its streams since 1905, a trend seen in many other cities in the United States and Europe. These disappearing waterways play a significant role in exacerbating flood risk, particularly in older, low-income neighborhoods that have historically received less investment in stormwater infrastructure.

The Legacy of Redlining and its Impact on Flood Risk

In addition to ghost streams, the legacy of redlining has also played a crucial role in shaping flood risk disparities in Detroit. Redlining was a discriminatory practice used in the past to deny financial opportunities to certain communities based on perceived risk. Neighborhoods labeled as “high risk” were often inhabited by people of color, immigrants, and individuals of lower socioeconomic status, leading to systematic neglect in terms of community investments, including stormwater infrastructure.

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Decades-old decisions made through redlining have had a lasting impact on flood risk in Detroit today. Research indicates that historically redlined neighborhoods are more susceptible to flooding, with over 95% of parcels classified at extreme flood risk located in these areas. The combination of redlining and the removal of natural waterways has created a situation where marginalized communities bear the brunt of flood risk, highlighting the need for more equitable approaches to urban planning and disaster preparedness.

Mapping Hidden Hydrology for Effective Flood Management

To address the disparities in flood risk, communities must first understand their “hidden hydrology” by mapping ghost streams and wetlands. This information can help identify areas at greater risk of flooding and inform the implementation of nature-based interventions, such as green stormwater infrastructure. By following natural pathways and processes, cities can better manage stormwater during extreme events and minimize the impact of flooding on vulnerable communities.

For example, Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History implemented permeable pavers with a culturally inspired design to manage floodwater following a major flooding event in 2014. Such solutions not only serve a practical purpose but also reflect the cultural heritage of the community. Engaging marginalized communities in the search for solutions is crucial, as their insights and experiences can help shape more effective and equitable flood management strategies.

Empowering Communities to Address Flood Risk Disparities

In conclusion, the intersection of ghost streams, redlining, and climate change has created a complex web of factors contributing to flood risk disparities in Detroit and other cities across the United States. Recognizing the historical injustices that have led to these disparities is essential in developing inclusive and effective solutions to mitigate flood damage and protect vulnerable communities.

Moving forward, it is imperative for cities to invest in mapping and understanding their hidden hydrology, engage with marginalized communities in decision-making processes, and prioritize nature-based interventions in stormwater management. By addressing the root causes of flood risk disparities and empowering communities to take proactive measures, we can work towards a more resilient and equitable future where all residents are protected from the impacts of flooding.

Links to additional Resources:

1. https://www.bridgemi.com 2. https://www.detroitnews.com 3. https://www.crainsdetroit.com

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Ghost streams, Redlining, Flood management

Ghost (Swedish band)
Ghost is a Swedish rock band known for its distinctive blend of theatricality, heavy metal, and arena rock. Formed in Linköping in 2006, the band first gained attention with their 2010 three-track demo, followed by the 7-inch vinyl "Elizabeth" and their debut album, Opus Eponymous. This album, nominated for a...
Read more: Ghost (Swedish band)

Redlining
Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which financial services are withheld from neighborhoods that have significant numbers of racial and ethnic minorities. Redlining has been most prominent in the United States, and has mostly been directed against African-Americans. The most common examples involve denial of credit and insurance, denial of...
Read more: Redlining

Flood control
Flood control (or flood mitigation or flood protection or flood alleviation) methods are used to reduce or prevent the detrimental effects of flood waters. Flood relief methods are used to reduce the effects of flood waters or high water levels. Flooding can be caused by a mix of both natural...
Read more: Flood control

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