The Infrastructure Trade: Built Relations of the Detroit River Border Region

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Haffner, John
Infrastructure , International Trade , Indigenous Planning , Public-private partnerships , Detroit River , Herb Gray Parkway , Detroit River Tunnel Company , Contracts , Trade corridor , Walpole Island First Nation , Marxism
Infrastructure is a popular unit of analysis among geographers and planners. The broad field of infrastructure studies provides a means of exploring the ways in which we materialize certain aspects of our communities. This study mines the extensive research into infrastructure and contributes new data and analysis in order to theoretically, historically, and empirically explore the social relations of trade infrastructure; here explored as infrastructure intended for the purposes of international trade that is geographically located within border regions. The context in which this study takes place is spatially located at the border of the U.S. state of Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. I also consider two different temporal contexts. First, I look to an historic case study of the first infrastructural crossing of the Detroit River between Windsor and Detroit—a period of roughly 40 years between 1870 and 1911—in order to locate historical consistencies in the economic forces that drive trade infrastructure. Second, I explore the contemporary case study of the Herb Gray Parkway in Windsor, Ontario and the eventual construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. This contemporary case features the unique involvement of Walpole Island First Nation (WIFN) and the ways that this Indigenous community informed the planning and development of the parkway and international crossing. A key thread running through these case studies is the inherently social nature of infrastructure. Setting infrastructure into motion require a great deal of social planning; the material expenditures of infrastructure could not exist without first laying a social groundwork that the planning process can move through. Ultimately, this social process is organized in a contractual apparatus that favors the distribution of infrastructural value to a financial class, while the local communities surrounding the infrastructure itself are relegated to securing minor contracts in the hopes of speculative economic benefit.
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