Saturday, March 27, 2010
Can Detroit be downsized? Can the vast tracts of land now featuring vacant, abandoned neighborhoods be transformed into orchards, pumpkin patches, cornfields, and vegetable gardens? Can neighborhoods be consolidated? And will this, in the end, do anything to alleviate the generational poverty that has afflicted the remaining citizens of Detroit since the 1960's?
I am optimistic about this for several reasons:
1. Foundations in the area are coordinating efforts and leveraging resources with an emphasis on Detroit. Kresge Foundation is paying the salary for an outside urban planner to work with City Council to develop the downsizing plan. The foundations have historically worked piecemeal and independently. This synergy must extend to the public and private sectors in order to avoid the same types of problems that have plagued government-led efforts in the past..
2. Local and organic food is a big deal. Even mid-level chain grocery stores such as Kroger are advertising sourcing of local products. Done right, there is unprecedented potential for local agriculture to be profitable.
3. Unlike earlier economic development schemes (think: casinos) the concepts of downsizing and urban farming are not designed to create thousands of jobs and enrich investors and developers. Instead, downsizing is a rational response to existing conditions, and urban agriculture identifies a viable use for the city's main asset: land. No one will get rich, but maybe a stable and productive industry will lift some out of poverty. And unlike gambling, there is no societal cost to community gardens.