Detroit is a city that has been witnessing a lot of change thanks to poor urban planning and bad economics. The past decade has been very rough for the people of Detroit and they are turning to old, but innovative, ways to revive the city. We have seen artists move to Detroit and even some tech companies. At the other end of the spectrum is a return to the land in the form of farming.
The low density neighbourhood design of the suburbs contributed to Detroit’s fall and now it might be saving the city by returning to arable land.
We were sitting at a picnic table nestled between his house and farm. Greg was in his early 40s, compact and wiry, with flecks of gray in his close-cropped black hair, his arms and face leathery from the sun. As he spoke, his leg jittered like a sewing-machine needle, and I got the impression that sitting still was torture for him. Most of our conversations occurred in moving vehicles, at his booth in the farmers’ market, or as we hacked at weeds or laid irrigation hose through fields.
Suburbia, Greg told me, was the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world: big, thin-walled houses that take loads of gas and electricity to heat and cool, acres of farmland and animal habitat bulldozed for useless lawns that guzzle water and gobble poisons, barrels of food scraps hauled across the county and buried in a landfill, sprawling subdivisions requiring cars and gasoline for the simplest of errandsâ€”mailing a package or buying a gallon of milk. What’s more, he said, suburbs encouraged isolation, cultivated a fear of strangers, and created enclaves that segregated the white middle class from poor people and brown people.
Detroit was once a great city, then the economic collapse of car-dominated industry in the city happened. Because of the prescence of Ford and GM in Detroit the city’s urban planning focused on cars; this led to poverty and neglect of needed infrastructure.
The collapse of Detroit occurred, and now they are rebuilding. One aspect of remaking Detroit is to bring it into the 21st century by focusing on people instead of cars. An example of this is the recent announcement that Detroit will host the largest urban farming setup in America.
One surprising growth industry in the city is urban farming. Recovery Park, a nonprofit, confusingly runs a program called Recovery Park Farms, which is a for-profit. Anyway, Recovery Park and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced last week an ambitious plan to create a 60-acre urban farm (35 acres of which comes from the government, through the Detroit Land Bank Authority) to be settled not with new houses for people but greenhouses and hydroponic systems for specialty produce. Recovery Park already operates a pair of smaller urban farms, growing vegetables like radishes, greens, and edible flowers and selling them to restaurants in the city.
Detroit has been hit hard by the ongoing economic claptrap that’s plaguing the global economy; the once-thriving oil-driven economy of the city is not fairing well. The city of Detroit is now looking to environmentally friendly sources of renewing their economy: farming.
Housing in Detroit is so cheap that it actually makes sense to tear down old lots and start planting!
Mr. Bing has long campaigned for a new master land-use plan that would rezone depopulated residential areas for other purposes, including farming. But after being sidetracked amid a fiscal crisis, city officials are now working on crafting a comprehensive farm policy that can satisfy investors like Mr. Hantz, residents, local activists and the state’s Right to Farm law, which limits municipalities’ power to regulate agriculture.
Hantz Farms officials acknowledge their self-funded venture would create few new jobs in the short term, and only modest revenue for Detroit. Hantz is offering only $300 a parcel, one-tenth of what city officials wanted. It has agreed to clear the land and demolish as many as 200 structuresâ€”at an estimated cost of more than $2 million, offset in part by tax credits and state assistanceâ€”before beginning to pay roughly $60,000 a year in taxes on the land.