Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reinventing Detroit

I read an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press this week:

Acres of barren blocks offer chance to reinvent Detroit

This one caught my eye because some of my work is with community gardens using vacant land. Here are some excerpted portions of the article:

Detroit's thinning population is vividly -- some would say disturbingly -- illustrated in a new map that is creating a buzz in local planning circles.

The map shows how to tuck the land mass of Manhattan (23 square miles), San Francisco (47 square miles) and Boston (48 square miles) -- and their combined populations of nearly 3 million people -- into Detroit. All three urban areas fit snugly within Detroit's 139 square miles with room to spare.

Detroit, where the population peaked at 2 million in the early 1950s, is home to about 900,000 today and is still losing people. The depopulation and demolition of abandoned properties has left the city dotted with thousands of vacant parcels, ranging from single home lots to open fields of many acres.

Detroiters should seize the opportunity to become a leaner, greener city for the 21st Century. "What if a lot of the vacant land was allowed to begin to become green?" Pitera said. "Could Detroit truly become the greenest city in the United States?"

This abundance of vacant land has people talking about new uses, such as urban farming, reforesting the city, and large-scale recreational areas.

Whatever happens, clearly Detroit is evolving early in the 21st Century as a sort of blank slate. Instead of looking at shrinkage as a problem, many planners see it as an opportunity. Detroit has a chance to invent an entirely new urban model, they say.

Whether it's farming or greenways or a network of thriving urban villages connected by transit lines, the solution could be uniquely Detroit's. And the likelihood is that the rest of the world, already fascinated by Detroit's urban drama, would take notice.

Personally, I think using some of our vacant land for small scale sustainable agriculture and for urban forests sounds wonderful. I really do see Detroit as a huge opportunity for transformation and new beginnings. Because we're so low and so broken, there are almost infinite possibilities for our future. Yes, there are major, major hurdles facing this city, but in the end I have a lot of hope. I was disturbed, though, to see so much venom, animosity and absolute hopelessness in many of the comments. Beyond hopelessness even, to a spirit of hatred and wanting Detroit to fail. But I also read a number of very positive and creative ideas coming from people looking with hope towards the future.

Any thoughts or comments?

1 comment:

Sister George said...

It seems to me, that Detroit has a real chance to change both it's physical and societal image with ideas that you speak of hear. Thanks for pointing out something positive about your city.