Retooling the Motor City: Can Detroit save itself?
A retooling plan for Detroit – involving controversial razing, shrinking, and repurposing – is under way as the Motor City tries to save itself.
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There are 875 urban farms and community gardens operating throughout the city, a network of which is providing affordable, pesticide-free food at neighborhood farmers' markets, restaurants and retail outlets, according to Detroit Works Project data. Green growth is everywhere – from small tomato plantings in a patch of a corner lot on a residential street to large orchard tracts planned by John Hantz, a local businessman who plans to build "the world's largest urban farm" in Detroit.Skip to next paragraph
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His for-profit venture, Hantz Farms, is negotiating with the city to buy 120 acres of unused land. Mr. Hantz is pitching the farm to the city as a tourist destination, beautification project, and a local economic generator that would employ more than 200.
Detroit's official 27 percent unemployment (some place it as high as 50 percent), miles of empty land, and nearby tech resources (Michigan State University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources) make the city perfect for an unprecedented experiment in urban agriculture, says Michael Score, president of Hantz Farms: "Most cities don't have that combination of resources," he says.
Most of the existing local greening projects in Detroit look like Spirit Farm in the North Corktown neighborhood, run by Kate Devlin, a longtime community organizer who saw raising food and tending chickens as a response to the blighted homes in her neighborhood, located 10 minutes from downtown, that were attracting squatting crack users.
"I was tired of looking at places I loved looking unbelievably ugly. [The garden] is a response to that ugliness, of trying to create a little bit of beauty and a place that's soft and peaceful," Ms. Devlin says.
Three years ago, with the blessing of her congregation, Devlin broke ground on the lot behind her Episcopal church with nothing but some gardening tools and volunteers. Today, the farm consists of a chicken coop; solar-powered greenhouse; an orchard of plum, peach, and apple trees; and a turkey that was rescued on the city's West Side and serves as the farm's unofficial mascot.
Besides spoiling the neighborhood for drug dealers, the farm contributes 25 percent of its produce to 165 needy families. Another 25 percent goes to volunteers, and 50 percent is sold at farmers' markets to help pay for maintenance costs.
CAN LAND TRUMP CREDIBILITY?
Detroit can't just be the Motor City anymore, says Mayor Bing. The automotive industry can no longer be the sole focus for growth, he says, noting that health care and technology sectors are already on the rise. An example: Wayne State University's medical school, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and the Henry Ford Health System, all in Midtown, collectively employ tens of thousands of people and are credited with helping stabilize the surrounding neighborhoods. The city says growth among the three employers will attract an additional 15,000 people to the area by 2015.
"Detroit probably has more engineering and technology capability than almost anywhere in the world because of the auto industry and the research schools here ... we can use both as a vehicle for growth," Bing says.