Detroit is a mess. The auto industry is collapsing. Crime is rampant. Anyone who could get out has left. Buildings are vacant. Large tracts of land, once formerly known as parking lots are empty. Where some see nothing but despair and blight, others smell an opportunity. Land is cheap. It was once used for agriculture. Why not again? Can Detroit be turned into an urban garden? Some think so.

h/t Rick Avramenko

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Mark,

    Thanks for the link. Interesting piece at newgeography. Detroit is not alone in this urban prairie. The East side of Buffalo N.Y. is much the same. Large vacant tracts where homes once stood. It is intriguing to think about the land being re-purposed to support CSA’s. Although I am sure it will take more than just available land to make that a reality.

  2. “This piece also highlights the absolutely crucial advantage of Detroit. It’s possible to do things there. In Detroit, the incapacity of the government is actually an advantage in many cases. There’s not much chance a strong city government could really turn the place around, but it could stop the grass roots revival in its tracks.

    Can you imagine a two-story beehive in Chicago? In many cities where strong city government still functions effectively, citizens are tied down by an array of regulations and permits that are actually enforced in most cases. Much of the South Side of Chicago has Detroit like characteristics, but the techniques of renewal in Detroit won’t work because they are likely against code and would be shut down the minute someone complained. Just as one quick example, my corner ice cream stand dared to put out a few chairs for patrons to sit on while enjoying a frozen treat on a hot day. The city cited them for not having a license. So they took them away and put up a “bring your own chair” sign. The city then cited them for that too. You can’t do anything in Chicago without a Byzantine array of licenses, permits, and inspections.

    In central Indianapolis, which is in desperate need of investment, where the city can’t fill the potholes in the street, etc., the minute a few yuppies buy houses in an area and fix them up, they immediately petition for a historic district, a request that has never been refused, ensuring that anyone who ever wants to do anything will be forced to run a costly and grueling gauntlet of variances, permits, hearings, etc. Only the most determined are willing to put up with that.

    In most cities, municipal government can’t stop drug dealing and violence, but it can keep people with creative ideas out. Not in Detroit. In Detroit, if you want to do something, you just go do it. Maybe someone will eventually get around to shutting you down, or maybe not. It’s a sort of anarchy in a good way as well as a bad one. Perhaps that overstates the case. You can’t do anything, but it is certainly easier to make things happen there than in most places because the hand of government weighs less heavily.

    What’s more, the fact that government is so weak has provoked some amazing reactions from the people who live there. In Chicago, every day there is some protest at City Hall by a group from some area of the city demanding something. Not in Detroit. The people in Detroit know that they are on their own, and if they want something done they have to do it themselves. Nobody from the city is coming to help them. And they’ve found some very creative ways to deal with the challenges that result.”

  3. Besides which, Dave Bing is mayor. I watched him play basketball at Syracuse. When he signed with Detroit he wrote a check to Syracuse for the full amount of his four year scholarship, to be given to a young person who deserved it–not necessarily a basketball player. Not a perfect man, but something different from Richie Daly.

  4. Having once followed the train to its terminus in southside Chicago, I saw scenes like those pictures provided of Detroit …some even lower density and the term “open space undevelopment” came to mind.

    Talking to some design and land use pros working in New Orleans and Cleveland, similar thoughts are being voiced to these . In particular, unlike the sprawl of the Western States, these crumbling rust belt cities have water resources in abundance…water that has had the benefit of the Clean Water Act and extended abandonment. Rice culture should be studied for introduction to many of the wetter devastated areas of the lower ninth ward. Still, one wonders of the soil in these regions of abandonment and if the ad hoc approach is capable of properly dealing with any extant problems.

    Interesting how a vibrant southeast asian community has made some of the biggest strides in the Ninth Ward while some Bangladeshi are making strides in Detroit. Another chapter in American Immigration and its resilience ……and remove from the larger society. The larger atomized “society” seems not to have the cohesive mutual support and looks to government to provide it

    Its nice to be warm in January but its not so nice to be hot and dangerously thirsty in January…..Something new is going to happen in the American Rustbelt and as this article points out, a little libertarian outlook..enables the community rather than manhandles it , as described in Chicago.

    Suburban renewal is on the horizon as well.

  5. There is nothing in Chicago proper like the devastation in Detroit. Gary and some of the formerly industrial south burbs (Chicago Hts., Ford Hts., Harvey)are close to Detroit in their degree of ruin. The soil in these places is contaminated with heavy metals to a degree that would make agriculture and horticulture inadvisable. Lead and lead compounds, mercury, antimony, molybdenum and arsenic top the list. Virtually all of these cities (and East Chicago, Blue Island, Whiting and most of Hammond too) are laden with a century of toxic residue. Yet this is home.

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