Churchill Downs Subdivision on the southwest side of Ann Arbor next to I-94 has been in the news a bit due to the flooding that has occurred there. The City of Ann Arbor recently announced a $2.2 Million project to address these flooding issues in and around the neighborhood.
The project is based off of recommendations from the 2014 report commissioned by Washtenaw County and found here. The subdivision itself was built in the early 1970s by Whittier Construction Company which is a defunct developer (they likely went out of business in 1988). During the construction of the subdivision, Malletts Creek was effectively buried. The open channel creek was turned into an underground drain.
Washtenaw County has a great online GIS database so we can begin exploring for ourselves the conditions that existed here before and after the subdivision. All images below are from this database.
So here is Churchill Downs as it looks today (subdivision bounded in yellow):
And here it is in 1940 – all farm fields!
And 1960 – still farm fields. I’ve traced out what looks like the original path of Mallets Creek through the farmers field. I-94 was also built sometime between 1956 and 1960 so we see that in the imagery as well.
And here we are in 1979. The subdivision has been built and Malletts Creek as been redirected, buried, and effectively turned from a Creek into an underground drain (heavy blue line). Look how different the path of the original creek to the “improved” version is.
I really wish I could find some of the planning and approval documents that detail why this was allowed to occur. Why was Malletts Creek allowed to be buried? Did Whittier think they could fit more houses into the subdivision without the Creek? Why did the city let this happen? Unfortunately this is consistent with the generational (of that time) attitude of water and what to do with it – namely, channelize it, straighten natural features and get rid of it as quick as possible – nature be damned. Look at how many streams around us end in “drain” – these aren’t natural features to be enjoyed but utilitarian conveyances of a perceived nuisance (e.g. water). One of the better examples of this in Metro Detroit is the River Rouge near I-94. Straightened out, lined with concrete and devoid of any natural appearance (below).
Whether coincidence or not, most of the flooding reported in the Subdivision during the 2012 Flood occurred along Wiltshire Drive (per Figure II-11 of the County Report) which follows the old creek drainage pathway.