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Looking back on how state-supported suburban flight laid foundation for Flint water crisis

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
What caused the Flint water crisis? Rick Sadler from Michigan State University argues the true cause of Flint's water disaster goes back decades.

What really caused the Flint water crisis?

The obvious and well-known answer is the April 2014 decision to start drawing the city's drinking water from the Flint River. That, in turn, caused corrosion in the city's lead water pipes, which caused lead to leach into the water.

Others point to Governor Rick Snyder's appointment of an emergency manager to control Flint's affairs. That happened in late 2011.(Support trusted journalism like this in Michigan. Give what you can here.)

Michigan State University public health expert and urban geographer Rick Sadler argues the true cause of Flint's water disaster goes back decades.
Sadler and co-author Andrew Highsmith have published a study laying out their case in the journal Environmental Justice.

Sadler joined Stateside to talk about the findings from the study and how, according to him, the public is missing the bigger picture by focusing on the emergency manager or the decision to switch the drinking water source.

"We're missing the bigger picture of state policy that supported suburbanization for many decades and made it easier for suburbs to prevent cities from annexing the developments that sprung up on their properties in the post-war era," said Sadler. "As our cities continued growing, it meant the core cities weren't able to capture the tax base that was growing beyond their boundaries."

This meant that urban areas suffered as a result, as poverty became more concentrated, there were fewer jobs and schools districts suffered. And according to Sadler, the state "propped up this system by encouraging suburban movement."

Listen to the full interview above as Sadler talks about how we, as a society, don't pay the fair price of living in the suburbs, the invisible subsidies that the suburbs enjoy that have hurt cities, and the direct impact the state's change in revenue sharing had on the city of Flint's debt problem.

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