Where To Now?
January 2, 2010
Seeing this and other photos prompted me to look back in on TIME Magazine’s Assignment Detroit (?) to see what one of the nation’s largest media outlets was thinking about the future of Michigan’s largest city.
They have been exploring how people in the city are grappling with the profound challenges in Detroit including rising budget deficits in the face of soaring costs, reduced public services, unemployment and also (according to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing) a failure by many to recognize just how serious the situation is. In many ways, these are the same issues that folks in other places in Michigan are dealing with.
One feature that caught my eye and that I really feel offers the kind of thinking that it will take to raise Michigan from its current depths is Can farming save Detroit?. They talk with Detroit businessman and millionaire John Hantz, who envisions:
A large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within the city limits of Detroit. Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in. Hantz is willing to commit $30 million to the project. He’ll start with a pilot program this spring involving up to 50 acres on Detroit’s east side. “Out of the gates,” he says, “it’ll be the largest urban farm in the world.”
…But still there’s the problem of what to do with the city’s enormous amount of abandoned land, conservatively estimated at 40 square miles in a sprawling metropolis whose 139-square-mile footprint is easily bigger than San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined. If you let it revert to nature, you abandon all hope of productive use. If you turn it over to parks and recreation, you add costs to an overburdened city government that can’t afford to teach its children, police its streets, or maintain the infrastructure it already has.
Faced with those facts, a growing number of policymakers and urban planners have begun to endorse farming as a solution. Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, now chairman of CityView, a private equity firm that invests in urban development, is familiar with Detroit’s land problem. He says he’s in favor of “other uses that engage human beings in their maintenance, such as urban agriculture.” After studying the city’s options at the request of civic leaders, the American Institute of Architects came to this conclusion in a recent report: “Detroit is particularly well suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale.”
Can you see the halls of massive ruins like Michigan Central Station, the Packard Plant or any of the countless other abandoned buildings across the state filled with green growth and warm light? Michigan is already a leader in agricultural diversity, producing an amazing array of crops. Rampant unemployment is a huge drain on our public services. Why not try and recover some of what we’re spending everywhere in Michigan by putting folks to work growing food and paying them in part in food?
Definitely check it out and offer your thoughts in the comments.