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Legacies of Emergency Management: Looking Back and Moving Forward

Legacies of Emergency Management: Looking Back and Moving Forward

In a collaboration with the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University and Louise Seamster at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, this Detroit panel discussion will consider some of the recent history of Emergency Management in Michigan. 

Since the 1980s, Michigan has been the national epicenter of “emergency management”—a project that allows state governors to declare “financial emergencies” in cities and thereby replace democratically elected officials with appointed emergency financial managers. In the three decades that emergency management has unfolded in Michigan, its cities have seen the privatization of public institutions, disinvestment in public infrastructures, and other acts of violence against the public sphere. Extending long histories of the extraction of labor, land, and wealth from communities of color in the United States, emergency management has been focused on black majority cities; in the last 10 years, around 52% of Michigan’s African-American residents have been disenfranchised by emergency management as compared to 3% of white Michiganders.

On December 14, 2017, Governor Rick Snyder announced that there were, at the moment, no emergency managers governing any of Michigan’s cities. That announcement prompts questions about the ongoing consequences and legacies of emergency management—a project that has become dormant rather than invalidated. What has the impact of emergency management been on Michigan’s cities? What lessons should be learned from these experiences? How can these lessons inform resistance in other spaces of threatened or ongoing dedemocratization?

Reception: 5:00pm

Panel Discussion: 6:00pm
Mark Fancher, Racial Justice Project, ACLU of Michigan
Catherine Coleman Flowers: Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise
Shea Howell, The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center
Helen Moore, Keep the Vote
Louise Seamster, The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Moderated by: Andrew Herscher, The University of Michigan

On Friday, March 23rd, a related workshop will be convened in Ann Arbor. This conversation will take up some of the issues presented on Thursday, considering Emergency Management as not only a local but also a national project, which engages with systems of infrastructure, government, and culture at multiple scales. 

The events are co-sponsored by theTaubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan and the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University. Image Courtesy of the Overpass Light Brigade.