Originally published in the Ann Arbor News, Bay City Times, Flint Journal, Grand Rapids Press, Jackson Citizen Patriot, Kalamazoo Gazette, Muskegon Chronicle, Saginaw News
October 4, 2015
When my family moved to Michigan in 1973, it felt quite literally like we were moving to the future. Gaffney, South Carolina, wasn’t like a total backwoods, but Flint — Flint was shiny and prosperous! There were the huge factories and a downtown with one-way streets and a cultural center with a freakin’ planetarium! Not that I had the slightest idea what a planetarium was, but it sure looked space-age. The clincher for me, though, was Safetyville. I had seen a story about Safetyville in a school magazine and marveled at the miniature town with electric cars built to teach elementary kids the basics of driving. Actually getting to go there was a dream come true. (Some still have the licenses they were issued upon successful completion, which even today fills me with envy.)
Little did I know that we had arrived at Flint’s peak. At the time, it would have been difficult to imagine the eventual and deep decline. But if somebody from the future had come back to describe it, I think it would have been at least somewhat believable: the intense pressures of globalization, the gross mismanagement by GM and the UAW, the parade of inept and/or corrupt city leaders. Yeah, that might have all seemed possible, I suppose.
However, if you had told me even a few years ago that the water would be poisoned, I would have said, “Hold on. We’re still talking about Michigan here, not some heartless futuristic dystopia. We may not guarantee our citizens safe roads or affordable education, but we’re all about clean, fresh water.”
And yet, here we are. So I’d like to propose a new Safetyville, one in which students are taught how to properly test a water treatment system to ensure high levels of lead cannot leach into the drinking water. And how, if you can’t guarantee that, then you don’t take the chance. Nobody would be able to hold a public office till they earned that Safetyville license.