Wanted to add that Dan had a productive post-doc with us in EHS in SPH. You can see some of his recent more technical studies on pollen, mostly in Detroit, in the following publications:
Estimates of Common Ragweed Pollen Production for Urban Ragweed Plants
Pollen production across a city: Scaling from anthers to neighborhoods with allometric equations and remote sensing
2350 Creating a comprehensive municipal inventory of common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) to predict allergenic pollen exposures
Effect of intra-urban temperature variation on tree flowering phenology, airborne pollen, and measurement error in epidemiological studies of allergenic pollen
This article is a valuable contribution. To all the angry critics, the world is complicated. There are plenty o’ problems to go around, and allergies and lung diseases affect urban poor people at epidemic rates. Pollen is one important contributor to asthma and other lung diseases; others include smog and bad indoor air quality, not to mention tobacco smoking.
One point that is unclear based on the article and especially the headline: “forest” is not the problem. The article’s focus was on ragweed and other plants that just come up on their own in vacant lots. These habitats are not native prairies or forests. Almost all the plants are invasive introduced species: ragweed, weedy grasses, shrubs like honeysuckle, softwood trees like Tree of Heaven and buckthorn. With dedicated effort and vision, such neglected spaces – which really are a threat to health and well being on many levels – can be replaced by more beneficial urban green spaces such as community gardens, private urban farms, and urban prairies and woodlands. All these things can be done and are happening in Detroit and in the Chicago Wilderness region as well.
Many different aspects to this article. Everyone has brought up great comments and viewpoints.
I see the potential for an opportunity to plant a garden in the recovering area. Planting a garden could result in:
Fresh veggies, lowering the food bill
Extra veggies could potentially be sold at a road side stand for extra cash
May cut down on the allergy causing pollen by removing the rag-weed and replacing it with carrots, zucchini, onions, etc
You may even find an Indian head nickel in the garden
Caution: Legally you may not be able to plant a garden on the land next door that the house, tenement, business, etc, has been torn down. ALSO, there may be unknown environmental hazards in the ground due to the buildings being torn down – rusty nails (tetanus), lead, PCB’s, etc. ie, 30 years ago it was common for an oil change to be completed at home and the oil dumped into a hole in the back yard.
The real elephant in the room is what’s getting glossed over here and it’s definitely not “pollen” or people dying after an asthma attack. There is an entire city crumbling underneath itself, the result of which was caused directly or indirectly by outsourcing and/or greed.
At one time, automotive companies, rubber companies, and/or steel companies were the backbone and driving forces in large cities like Detroit, or smaller cities like Gary Indiana or Akron Ohio. When these conglomerates moved, merged, closed, or over decades, all of the above, or were driven out by outsourcing they couldn’t compete with, the vacuum-void you see NOW is the result. If this was the Roman Empire, people would be remarking it’s collapse, NOT the tall grass in once perfectly-kept lawns that are sprouting ragweed now.
Unfortunately, unless you actually TRAVEL through these areas, or grew up in or around them and return after 40 years, it gets lost on how fast the decay sets in and obliterates entire city blocks that were once thriving neighborhoods your parents and grandparents built and maintained. If curious, google maps often has a older images of locations from the mid 00’s and now. Google “539 Madison St. Gary Indiana”. Select the 2011 vs. 2018 map images and you’ll see entire homes wiped out out. Use the forward arrows and travel down the side streets while cycling between mid 00’s and now if the “Street View”clock image icon appears and use the slider. EVERY vacant plot of grass you see now used to house such a structure. Whether it was a grand home, business, church, etc., it’s gone now or falling in on itself. Google “Ira Avenue Akron Ohio” and keep in mind it used to be a main road to the Summit Lake area and some of the pictures are still from 2011 and not today. EVERY vacant plot used to be a home with a family, a business, etc.. Now search a random green grass area in Detroit, and use the slider to see a before/after. If you really want to see a stark contrast, try finding once prominent locations and see if anything remains on the land. Then search for historical photos online of the address in it’s heyday to see how grand the area once was.
To be perfectly honest, more people are dying from drugs and outright murder due to the vacuum created when entire cities FAIL due to the increase in poverty and loss of opportunity after the bread gets moldy and the butter goes rancid. And thanks to modern technology, we can easily examine this phenomenon w/o leaving our homes.
Just remember, the next time someone makes a comment such as “Why make that here when you can make it in China for a few cents”? Well, now you know the full cost of selling out the American worker and the destructive path it leaves behind in the city the American workers came from, which probably doesn’t mirror your suburban city that wasn’t affected.
While I’m sure “pollen” growing in a once populated area is of some concern to some scientist with a narrow field of view, the rest of the country is more concerned with that elephant in the room.
Thanks to Lucas Joel for an excellent write-up of the issues surrounding pollen exposure in Detroit. I’d like to add that while Detroit does face large challenges, it’s also a vibrant and tenacious city. I’m lucky to have spent time there, from the friendly conversations I had with everyday Detroiters while conducting fieldwork in its neighborhoods, to interacting with the enthusiastic volunteers that helped collect pollen. Detroit is filled with people working hard to make it even better and I’m optimistic for the city’s future. This research also puts Detroit at the forefront of understanding pollen exposure- a problem that’s ubiquitous across American cities and goes far beyond ragweed.
If you’re interested in learning more about Detroit, from its rich and complicated history, to some bold ideas for its future, or what to do when you visit (which you should!), I’d recommend a few resources:
Detroit City is the Place to be by Mark Binelli
The next book on my reading list is: The Origins of Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue
Those interested in keeping up with my research can follow me on twitter @pollenscientist
Really? A negative article worrying about the earth healing itself when humans get out of the way? Really? What kind of belief in the “inevitable progress of humans” is this crap? Get out of the cities and check out the natural world! That is the world that so many “progressives” whine about saving as they fly across the world, drive vehicles hither and yon, buy their “farm grown” food in stores, and find new ways to waste resources.
Also, let’s use more electricity to power more computers and mobile devices to further the exploitation of those resources, ad nauseum.
While I’m not as grouchy as you, I agree with you. I think it’s an interesting article and worthy of reporting, but I don’t agree with its conclusions. I would like to know causes of asthma in all these children.
This article about the current deficiencies in pollen sampling is SPOT ON. Current methods are antiquated. Automated pollen samplers with automated microscopy generate analysis every few minutes from a constant sample of air and provide HOURLY averages. This tech is here today: pollensense.com.
Let’s get the researchers in Detroit the tools they need to understand pollen distribution!
Disclaimer: I work for Pollen Sense LLC, but that doesn’t make me wrong about our tech.
Uh, sorry, but the residents of Detroit need protection from lead poisoning, not pollen.
yes come to opening your organisation here in all congo kinshasa.
This is clearly the demise of the Detroit auto industry. Many came there for jobs. They never would have come there for the beautiful weather! Then the jobs went away. On top of that, the outrageous union back wages gave no incentive for people of limited skill to better themselves. SO once out of work, they had no higher education or other skills. Then came home loss, homelessness, then eventually a move to a place like San Francisco that allows people to sleep on the sidewalk.
Let me see…We’re frantically trying to save a hotter earth. Among the better solutions is to grow more carbon sinks, i.e. plants and trees. Plants and trees are reestablishing themselves in, of all places, Detroit. Do we celebrate? With this nutty story, no!!! Instead, we weep because in the face of a good approach to ameliorating a hotter earth, a few people are going “Ah-coo!” What a myopic view. The author ought to broaden what he reads.
Excellent article and visuals. So much infrastructure lost; pollution wasted.
I wonder why those vehicles were abandoned? Though not as bad in as in Detroit, and for different reasons that Detroit’s demise, Amazon is killing retail and local communities – https://www.emissionstax.org/how-amazon-bankrupts-communities/
Local businesses pay local employees and taxes.
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