detroit as the city of the future

A note from my friend Dave.

I read a great article on Detroit in the new issue of Harper’s. It talks about the rise and fall of the city, the vacant lots, and the movement toward using the vacant land to farm. It suggests that Detroit may end up being the model for the sustainable city of the future.

This morning I also saw that Bill Moyers interviewed Grace Lee Boggs, an activist that lives in Detroit, who was mentioned in the Harper’s article.

Thought you might be interested in the two.

So, what do you think – does the idea of Detroit as the city of the future scare the shit out of you?

[This post and subsequent comments have been edited to remove reference to events currently under investigation by the men and women of law enforcement.]

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  1. DM
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    [A majority of this comment has been removed at the request of the author.]

    I hear houses are cheap in Michigan these days…..

  2. egn-b
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    As a once and hopefully future Seattle-ite, I would love to read a Seattle blog that reaches for the same goals as does in Ypsilanti. What could have been so bad that the Seattle PD would force the site to shut down? Does free speech not count for anything anymore?

  3. Ken
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Dave is kinda like Charlie Bronson…a vigilante!

  4. DM
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    [This comment has been removed at the request of the author.]

  5. dr. teddy glass
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Word is that we might have had a politically motivated tire slashing here in Ypsi just the other day. Only the tires weren’t slashed. The stems were just removed. Some folks think it has to do with a certain recall petition against two of our City Council members that was initiated by the man with the four flats. Of course, one could have absolutely nothing to do with the other.

  6. dr. teddy glass
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Dave, if you’re interested in moving to Ypsilanti, there are a hell of a lot of houses available right now. (Some of them aren’t even condemned.)

    We could use a new blogger to replace the one Mark had silenced.

  7. Hillary
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I can’t read the article in Harper’s, but people on DetroitYES say it is inaccurate. (For one, the Birwood Wall runs perpendicular to 8 Mile.) The biggest “farm” is 10 acres, and there are not very many of them. Is buying the property next door for a garden farming? Far more lots have been developed into new housing.

    That said, I’ve been thinking about turning an empty lot into an orchard.

  8. Posted June 19, 2007 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t heard anything about Detroit as farming community, but I’ve read it about working in other cities (article in today’s St. Louis paper).

    I read somewhere else that only 22% of Detroit residents graduated from high school in the past few years (not sure which years they targeted). We were last in the nation. So sad.

  9. Katy
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m not ready to say Detroit is the “city of the future,” but I do think that there’s a sort of freedom about Detroit because it’s lost so much. In some ways it has much more freedom to adapt to new and emerging ideas because the infrastructure and population are a skeleton of what they formerly were. Having elements of the old guard dismantled and dispersed among the suburbs makes the ground fertile for new ideas.

  10. UBU
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    People have slashed their wrists while suffering through Mark’s prose but no tires…

  11. It's Skinner Again
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    A friend told me Detroit has the best flea markets he’s ever seen. Has anybody else checked them out?

  12. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Of course, in the city of the future we’re a bit more progressive in dealing with folks who mess with taggers.

    (Sorry, I could only find the article in Google’s cache.)

    Seattle gangs let the air out of tires … that sounds so quaint.

  13. Hillary
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    There aren’t a lot of flea markets. The only flea market I know of is in Southwest, and the guy who told me about it advised me keep an extra $20 in my pocket for banditos. The antique shops have very reasonable prices.

  14. Dr. Cherry
    Posted June 19, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    “Best” is a relative term but I gather what doesn’t fly at pawn shops ends up at Metro Flea Market on Vernor. Though I wouldn’t recommend showing up in a late model volvo with a wad of cash, if you get my drift.

  15. DM
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    The article describes Detroit as having roughly 40 square miles of vacant lots, or roughly a third of the land within the city limits. Granted, it is not contiguous, but that is one hell of a lot of dormant land going unused with little prospect of development. There are a lot of organic farms out here that operate on 5 acres or less of leased land and are profitable. Even the farmer I worked for years ago leased pockets of land aroud the Cherry Hill area. 40 square miles works out to about 25,000 acres of land.

    The author was not suggesting that people start buying up land in Detroit to farm. She was suggesting that as a result of necessity, the people of Detroit were turning to growing their own food. She saw this as being more “green” than buying organic produce from across the world or driving Priuses and felt that it may actually be a more sustainable model.

    She may have gotten the wall location wrong, but she was just trying to continue an analogy of borders, both physical and invisible, between Detroit and the outside that started with the first settlement where the Pontchartrain Hotel stands. The division is painfully obvioius when traveling up Jefferson into the Grosse Pointe neighborhoods. The border, as I remember it, was very distinct.

    [This comment has been edited at the request of the author.]

    Seattle is a nice place, but it has it’s problems too. There are a couple of gangs that reside in an area just north of me and they kill each other just like most other urban gangs do . I’ve seen police stand offs with guns drawn in front of my house. Also, the auto theft rate here is one of the highest in the nation.

    You can keep the Murder City reputation. I’m not interested in it, and I cannot understand why people there are so proud of it. Detroit Bad Ass my ass.

  16. Posted June 20, 2007 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I believe that Detroit was only Murder Capital of the World once (1976?) and maybe one other time more recently. And I believe the pride has more to do with making lemonade from lemons, because we get so tired of people slagging our city – especially people who’ve never been here.

  17. Hillary
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    DM: Every article about Detroit tries to emphasis the borders. Yes, there is a lot of vacant land, and someone could theoretically grow food on it. Is it a movement if no one is actually doing it?

  18. Hillary
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    BTW… there was an interview with Grace Lee Boggs on Bill Moyers Journal last weekend.

  19. Dr. Cherry
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    She was suggesting that as a result of necessity, the people of Detroit were turning to growing their own food.


    Detroit gardeners aren’t doing anything out of necessity, they’d be gardening no matter where they lived. I’m also fairly certain that the average, non-gardening, Detroiter doesn’t care if their produce is organic or where it’s grown. I think many living in poverty live on fast food because it’s incredibly cheap and available.

    I’m reckoning that it’s still cheaper to buy produce at the Eastern Market than trying to produce it yourself. Hell, in my experience, the city has a better supply of fresh produce than the suburbs who’s mega-super-markets truck it in from the furthest corners of the globe.

    I think a lot of people like to project their fantasies on Detroit, because it has so much potential. In reality, a lot of vacant land is potentially polluted and would have to be environmentally remediated before it could produce safe food. Furthermore, the property taxes on land in the city make it disadvantageous to farm in any large-scale way.

  20. mark
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    What if veggies grown in the chemical-rich soil of Detroit gave people super-powers, like in that episode of Gilligan’s Island?

  21. Hillary
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Last Sunday, I picked cherries from abandoned fruit trees near the Detroit incinerator and made jam. You’re welcome to have a jar.

  22. Ol' E Cross
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Kathleen, Hillary, Cherry, well put.

    For me, it’s a bit like looking at a bombed mosque in Iraq and saying, “Hoorah, now we have a place to plant tomatoes.”

    I’ve no doubt Seattle has its problems and I’m sorry for making light of what, for anyone, would be extremely disturbing events.

    My purpose in linking to the graffiti murder was an attempt to comment on the real issues facing Detroit and those who call it home.

    If only we could learn to think of cancer as a superpower…

  23. mark
    Posted June 20, 2007 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    The thought most at the forfront of my mind when I’m in Hamtramck is, “These people have the best chance of surviving when the shit really hits the fan.” It doesn’t have anything to do with farming. There’s just a resourcefullness that doesn’t exist anywhere else around here. I was there a few years ago when the power went out and they didn’t miss a beat. They just kept going.

  24. dr. teddy glass
    Posted June 21, 2007 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I’m trying to picture an urban version of Mrs. Howell after having eaten a giant sugar beet grown in angle dust and medical waste.

  25. Hillary
    Posted June 21, 2007 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Why would you try picture that? I’ve never seen a woman in Detroit who remotely resembles Mrs. Howell.

  26. Dr. Cherry
    Posted June 21, 2007 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    TG: Now did you look up the sugar beet / Mrs. Howell connection or did you just remember it?

  27. BVos
    Posted June 21, 2007 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    While there aren’t gardens on every empty lot in Detroit, there’s enough out there that driving around a neighborhood on the eastside, SW Detroit, non-gentrified Woodward Corridor, basically most places within the Grand Blvd ring, will result in finding an urban garden. DAN (Detroit Agriculture Network) has been supporting the movement (with the help of the Boggs Center) for years.

  28. BVos
    Posted June 21, 2007 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    As far as Detroit being the future, I’d say it is and could go on ad nauseum about it. Here are a few links showing it’s the future for urban agriculture:


    Catherine Ferguson Academy:

  29. Dr. Cherry
    Posted June 21, 2007 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    If there is or ever was a movement in Detroit maybe we need to credit the depression of 1893 and Mayor Hazen S. Pingree’s “Potato Patch Plan”.

  30. Tanesha
    Posted March 11, 2008 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    tear that negative piece of history down

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