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A Return to Detroit's Roots: An Urban Agriculture Debate

A Return to Detroit's Roots: An Urban Agriculture Debate

Detroit’s downfall is a storied urban planning nightmare. One largely important factor in the city’s decline is the rapid population exodus it continues to experience. Population loss has resulted in vast amounts of vacant, government-owned land. But what is the solution for a bankrupt city that is the owner of more vacant lots than it

Detroit’s downfall is a storied urban planning nightmare. One largely important factor in the city’s decline is the rapid population exodus it continues to experience. Population loss has resulted in vast amounts of vacant, government-owned land. But what is the solution for a bankrupt city that is the owner of more vacant lots than it can afford?

 

An example of urban forestry in Berkeley, California

A popular proposal in the discussion of Detroit’s future is the idea of transforming vacant lots into urban farms. With 40 of its 139 square miles estimated to be vacant, Detroit’s urban farmers seem well meaning, with visions of sustainable development in their city and relief from their neighborhoods being classified as food deserts. However, the Hantz Woodlands farm has drawn a lot of negative attention ever since its first proposal, despite being the initiative of a local entrepreneur designed to increase green space and tax revenue for the city government.

Some critics are calling it a “sweetheart deal from a city desperate for money and development ideas” because, as the New York Times reports, Hantz has been approved by the city to purchase 140 acres of land in eastern Detroit for “slightly over 8 cents per square foot.” Robert Anderson, Detroit’s planning and development director, supports the Hantz effort because it will generate income for the city off of land that would otherwise have “negative value and a negative impact on our community.” Michigan State University has pledged money to support agricultural research efforts and Anderson states the University of Michigan has shown interest too. The urban farming initiatives in Detroit could set the stone rolling on more responsible policy implementation.

Detroit's "Future City" Plan for more Green spaces and Blue infrastructure

However, the biggest negative in the Hantz discussion may be that Detroit seems over-reliant on urban farms as placeholders across the city. The Detroit Works Long-Term Planning Team recently revealed their “Future City” project that features farms and other green space in about one third of the city’s land area. Urban agriculture advocacy groups like the Greening of Detroit count nearly 40 market gardens selling their local produce.

What are some more balanced revitalization proposals for Detroit in 2013?

Credits: Photograph by author. Map and data linked to sources.

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Meg Mulhall is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She calls Kalamazoo, Michigan her hometown but is currently exploring community organizing and urban planning efforts in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan. Planning to pursue a degr...

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