The Rouge River: Redlining, Riverbanks, and Restoration in Metro Detroit:
What actions would be necessary to ensure a just distribution of the Rouge River’s ecosystem services?
Once so toxic and polluted it caught fire, the Rouge River is a symbol of the struggle to achieve equitable restoration that enhances environmental justice in Michigan’s most socially diverse region.
For over one hundred years, the Rouge River has been a vital component of southeastern Michigan's industrial machine. It has transported goods to and from faraway places, provided hydropower, and received enormous amounts of industrial and municipal waste. Affected to this day by the wounds of that abuse, the Rouge struggles to heal as it faces a larger adversary: development and sewage from its densely populated, concrete-encased watershed. A history of segregation and environmental injustice within the watershed complicates the restoration of the Rouge River as those communities situated on the most degraded parts of the river are also those with the fewest resources to do anything about it. This situation leaves the Rouge and its citizens with some complicated questions regarding its shifting identity: is it a sewer, a lost cause, or an untapped recreational resource? Who decides? And who pays for these changes?