I’ll be blunt: I was deeply concerned by my visit to the famous River Rouge area, a short drive just south of Detroit. First, a bit of clarification is in order; there is the actual town of River Rouge, which is located along the banks of the Detroit River, and includes the mouth of the River Rouge (Red River in French) and Zug Island. A U.S. Steel plant sits just to the south along the Detroit River.
Then, there’s the actual Ford River Rouge Complex, which lies along the River Rouge northwest of the suburb I just described in the large company town/suburb of Dearborn.
Designed by Albert Kahn (who else, right?), the River Rouge plant revolutionized yet again industrial architecture with a focus on light and windows. (But of course, so did St. Louis breweries designed by Edmund Jungenfeld in the Nineteenth Century.)
While of course Anheuser-Busch and Lemp perfected the business model of vertical integration in St. Louis brewing, Henry Ford attempted to do so at River Rouge, with a nearby steel mill and other factories. Ford never quite pulled it off, and doesn’t do so today.
Ford logically operated its own steel mill, as well.
And even owned its own iron mines and freighters.
The buildings are massive!
Not surprisingly, Ford even had its own power plant, as Lemp and Anheuser-Busch also possessed. A-B’s is still active, though converted from coal to natural gas.
The massive mill and the auto plant are a sight to behold. The size of the giant vents that snake their way around the roofs are something I’ve never seen before.
And of course, Ford helped in the war effort, as well.
Below looks like a former power plant.
But as I mentioned before, I was disturbed by much of what I saw. It is obvious the area is heavily polluted (St. Louis Patina legal counsel disclaimer: Chris Naffziger and St. Louis Patina make no statements or assertions that Ford Motor Company, U.S. Steel, Marathon Petroleum Corporation or any other business operating in Dearborn or River Rouge are actively polluting), and when I rolled down my car windows to photograph some of these buildings, the air was so foul I started coughing after only thirty seconds. I laughed how Ford talks about their green roof on part of their plant up near the touristy part of the River Rouge Plant. No green roofs down here!
Why not throw an oil refinery in to the mix along with a couple of steel mills and a coal-fired power plant?
Next, I drove down to the actual town of River Rouge, which is definitely not where the workers at the auto plant live.
The characteristic blue buildings of a U.S. Steel plant can be seen off in the distance, just across the border from the town.
River Rouge, despite receiving all the foul, unbreathable air from the industry surrounding it, does not benefit from any of the tax revenue from those polluting industries. Wow, that sounds familiar!
I was deeply saddened by what I saw in River Rouge; there was obviously much deep-seeded poverty, and the jobs nearby, which pay well, were not necessarily translating into a higher standard of living of the people who live downwind.
There is hope, however, as people work to take back their community from the legacy of pollution, as this article shows.
But in the time being, I worry about the residents breathing for decades the same acrid air that I had only breathed for a few minutes