A Crowning Achievement in a Neighborhood’s Fight Against Air Pollution

The East Canfield Village neighborhood of Detroit is not the most likely place to encounter a monumental sculpture of an African crown glittering with gold lowrider paint and soaring high into the trees.

Yet this queenly structure, designed by theland artist and activist Jordan Weber, is fitting for one of the city’s most disadvantaged and polluted neighborhoods: In place of jewels, the crown is outfitted with an air-monitoring system that will enable residents to track airborne pollutants, from Canadian wildfire smoke to emissions from a massive automotive assembly complex four blocks away.

Weber’s sculpture, “New Forest, Ancient Thrones,”in the newly designed East Canfield Art Park, was unveiled May 18 in a procession led by West African drummers. The sculpture melds crowns worn by two African queens — Ranavalona III of 19th-century Madagascar, who led her kingdom’s resistance to French colonizers before being exiled, and Idia of Benin, whose military derring-do during her son’s reign in the 16th century helped fend off tribal invaders.

Weber’s métier is working in industrial corridors in redlined neighborhoods helping communities of color heal from the effects of environmental and social ills, often a lengthy and collaborative process. He is part of a growing movement called regenerative art, which seeks to revitalize links between communities andtheir ecosystems.

His installation, which will include a raised walkway for “forest bathing,” amid pollution-absorbing conifers, was commissioned by Sidewalk Detroit, a nonprofit group dedicated to making the city’s public spaces more equitable and livable and with whom Weber has spent the past year as artist in residence.

A rendering of a future addition to the crown, which will include a raised walkway for ‘forest bathing’ and the planting of additional pollution-absorbing conifers. Credit…via Jordan Weber

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