Grosse Pointe Park has found plenty of clever ways to block one of its busiest borders with Detroit – erect a large pile of snow, delay work on a water main project and build a farmer’s market in the middle of the road.
But after Motor City Muckraker revealed in December that the barriers were illegal, the affluent suburb reopened one lane – the one entering Grosse Pointe Park – as part of a deal with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to avoid a potential lawsuit.
This week Grosse Pointe crews lined the intersection of Kercheval and Alter with trees planted in giant clay pots that were delivered on flatbeds from California, reigniting a debate about real and perceived barriers between the two disparate communities.
City officials said the planters are part of a beautification project and do not disrupt traffic. Some residents expressed support because the tall trees block blight on the Detroit side.
But others see an ugly symbol of intolerance and classism that harkens back to an era of segregation and elitism.
“Whether it’s covered in flowers or called a farmers’ market, a wall is still a wall,” Grosse Pointe Park resident Graig Donnelly said.
Between 1945 and the 1960s, the Grosse Pointe Homeowners Association employed a point system that made it impossible for black people to own property. It wasn’t until 1966 that the first African American family moved to Grosse Pointe, according to political scientist Andrew Hacker.
But Grosse Pointe Park is changing, attracting young professionals and transforming from a traditionally conservative community to a more progressive one. About 10.5% of the Park’s population is black, compared to just 3.5% in 2000.
In the 2008 and 2012, the Park was the only one of the five Grosse Pointe communities to vote in favor of President Obama .
But on the local level, many of the politicians, including the recently retired 93-year-old mayor, are staunch conservatives who have not developed relationships with the younger residents.
Detroit officials said today they don’t plan to voice opposition to the planters as long as traffic isn’t impeded.
Since Grosse Pointe removed a road-blocking farmer’s market and reopened one lane of traffic on Kercheval in December, many motorists have complained about the new street configurations. At least five accidents have been reported at the narrowed intersection, which now includes a cramped roundabout that some delivery trucks can’t maneuver. The farmer’s market sheds also have been struck at least three times by cars.
Grosse Pointe officials didn’t return calls for comment.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.