Taking care of the basics

noun: infrastructure; plural noun: infrastructures
  1. the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g., buildings, roads, and power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.
pub·lic pol·i·cy
noun: public policy
  1. the principles, often unwritten, on which social laws are based.

The conditions at Spain school in Detroit

Last week Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan visited a group of public school buildings in his city. At the conclusion of his tour the mayor told the Detroit Free Press, “There were some schools that were very well-maintained. There were some other schools that would just break your heart, where students wore their coats in class until it was warm enough to take them off or where children couldn’t use the gym because of the water damage. ”

Just to the north of Detroit, the sparkling new Bloomfield Hills High School is open for business, complete with a fireplace, grand staircase and a sculpture laden courtyard.

It is ten miles, 10.8 to be exact, from BHHS to the border of the city of Detroit.


The BHHS courtyard

I am pleased that the students attending classes at BHHS will do so in an environment that celebrates architecture, open spaces and learning. Is it too opulent? Maybe, maybe not. But, I cheer its aspiration, especially when compared to the hideous, low-bid public structures that have become the norm in the last half century.

The Detroit case, however, is much less complicated for me. It is a clear and obvious failure of public policy. How can we expect children to apply themselves when their schools have leaky roofs, buckling floors and mold? Yet state policy allows for (promotes?) these outcomes through funding mechanisms that under-fund just about everything and increase disparities between rich areas and poor ones.

public schools

Gymnasium at Spain Elementary

In Michigan it is not just the schools. Our roads are among the nation’s worst and public transportation is non existent for most citizens. Like with schools, the problems are everywhere, but they are most pronounced in urban areas. Yet, despite calls from every corner of the state, the legislature failed to pass a meaningful transportation package at the end of 2015, signaling that the hurdles will remain for decades to come.

And then there is the case of Flint and the elevated levels of lead in the water. It is hard to fathom that the collective public policy strategy in 2015 doesn’t guarantee clean drinking water for all of the state’s citizens.  We aren’t a fledgling banana republic, after all. This is the United States of America, and Michigan is the Great Lakes State. Epic public policy failures like this draw the world’s attention- not exactly the kind of image that state leaders want when proclaiming the state’s comeback after decades of economic decline.

pot hole

A road maintenance crew gets stuck in a pot hole

Poor school conditions, lousy roads, awful public transportation and dirty water. For a state looking to rebuild itself as a viable 21st Century destination, the dreadful lack of basic infrastructure is a challenge that must be overcome. Cities cannot do it without the state’s commitment which, to date, remains elusive.