January 18 2013

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 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.

Meg Mulhall

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 degree in either public policy or political science, Meg is interested in the relationship between government and non-governmental organizations and how those relationships can help remedy the lack of responsible and smart planning-related policies.

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This entry was posted on Friday, January 18th, 2013 at 9:05 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Land Use, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


5 Responses to “A Return to Detroit’s Roots: An Urban Agriculture Debate”

  1. Charity Says:

    Your story leaves a lot of things out, and is set-up to make Detroit’s Black community look “stupid” not to accept the “help” of John Hantz. It is very narrowly framed and does not take into account the value, nor history of land holding, and racism which is still an important factor in land. You need to go deeper than the surface level, and interview folks on the ground in Detroit and not be so centered on business, other narrow interests and no relationships to locally rooted persons/organizations.

  2. Meg Mulhall Says:

    Charity, I appreciate your feedback. However, I did not write this with any intention of making Detroit’s black community look stupid – I’m sorry you’re reading it that way. I think I’ve presented both sides of the discussion (Pro-Hantz, Anti-Hantz) in a balanced way, drawing your attention to the third paragraph.

    I will admit this post was my first look into some of the urban planning issues and discussions taking place in Detroit today. This post is definitely not trying to say that Detroit should take the “help” from John Hantz. When I wrote this post, I was coming from an outsider perspective noticing a lot of emphasis on farming in Detroit.

    Since writing this post I’ve come to appreciate the possibilities urban farming may hold for the city. However, my opinion is that keeping this movement a predominantly grassroots one would be for the best – corporations should not be taking over this movement, including Hantz’s proposal. But please recognize that I was not endorsing Hantz, or business interests in general.

    This article a surface-level reading of the issue at hand, and I’m taking my opportunity with Global Site Plans to get more involved in the community and planning in Detroit. I would love to read some of your opinions and take a look at some of the work that has inspired you.

  3. It Shall Rise from the Ashes: A Review of the Film ‘Detropia’ | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] and this hope for better things. Trends in Detroit’s recent revitalization movement, like the rise in popularity of urban farming and the notable influx of young, white, creative types, are touched upon in the [...]

  4. Detroit, Michigan SOUP: Feeding Community Projects | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] your five dollars at the door buys you dinner, made by volunteers, usually with produce from their urban gardens, and a vote for which project you wish the donations collected will help to [...]

  5. It Shall Rise from the Ashes: A Review of the Film ‘Detropia’ Says:

    […] and this hope for better things. Trends in Detroit’s recent revitalization movement, like the rise in popularity of urban farming and the notable influx of young, white, creative types, are touched upon in the […]

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