Slipping and sliding into troubled waters

Apr 9, 2015 at 1:57 pm

It's a wonder anybody didn't see this coming.

A plan announced by Slide the City, a traveling water entertainment company from Utah, to bring a 1,000-foot, two-lane water slide to the streets of Detroit this summer, should have set off some alarm bells somewhere, dictating careful PR handling.

You see, Detroit is in the middle of a battle to halt water shut-offs to city residents who are behind on their bills. According to the Michigan ACLU, anywhere from 26,000-28,000 residential customers in Detroit could face water shut-offs starting in May. That would mean the city's poorest and hardest hit would face an action condemned by the United Nations.

It would be against this backdrop that free-spending folks would pay between $15 and $50 for the privilege of racing through the city on thousands of gallons of water.

Yes, the two issues are separate. It's really more a matter of poor timing than anything else. But, as they say these days, the optics are bad.

How bad? In the wake of the announcement, a meme began circulating through social networks:

The facts of the meme are incorrect, of course. But the feeling that Detroit is about to become hellish for those who've toughed it out when many had written the city off, while it becomes a pleasure garden for those who can afford such frivolities, has caught on like wildfire. (Add to this the fact that unpaid water bills are added to tax bills and will likely cause many to lose their homes as well, and an even more unseemly picture emerges.)

And even if the facts, on their face, are wrong, the creators of the meme, US Uncut, offered this compelling reply: "We read the entire story and just because the slide is temporary and built by private company doesn't change the facts at all: Detroit is providing a private corporation with public roads and public water that they're denying their own citizens. It's simple as that. A commenter said, 'Detroit needs this slide.' Guess what, humans *need* water to survive. Think before you justify inhumanity."

Even our blog post about the project, which contained no nay-saying, quickly erupted into a free-for-all about pensions, broken promises, and how, "Meanwhile in Detroit, hundreds of citizens have no water in their homes." 

It would seem obvious what to do. Slide the City has been known to donate some of its proceeds to local charities. If they were wise, they'd earmark a fixed percentage of their proceeds to many of the worthy groups either fighting to keep the water on or to ameliorate the worst of the proposed shut-offs' effects.

Or else this debate is sure to slide even further.