Urban Agriculture

Urban farms are an alternative to open public parks and have become very much mainstream solution for communities who are struggling with food deserts and loss of community sense. There had been instances of such cases during World War 2 with victory gardens to support the war and even Detroit’s Pingree Potato Patches during 1893 which helped sustain the immigrants suffering the Panic of 1893 [1]. Yet these moments are short-lived in most situations, lasting for about a couple decades at most only. However, urban agriculture and community gardens are being embraced by the Detroiters right now and the movement has been recognized as one of the pioneering events of current planning. Some people even suggested to look at this movement from a completely different perspective than the traditional economic expansion through building offices and encouraging commercial activities in the city. Instead of reliving the glorious days of automobile industry boom, this new form of urban growth that is more grounded in social values of community and environmental values could be the way to the future.

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Fig. 1: A site of urban farm ran by people living in its community in Cass Corridor, Detroit. Photographed by James Griffioen. Source: ABA Journal (2011). [1]
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Fig. 2: A site of urban farm ran by people living in its community in Cass Corridor, Detroit. Photographed by James Griffioen. Source: ABA Journal (2011). [1]
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Fig. 3: A site of urban farm ran by people living in its community in Cass Corridor, Detroit. Photographed by James Griffioen. Source: ABA Journal (2011). [2]


 

Urban farming still draws skepticism today as a long-term, permanent solution to the problems in Detroit [2]. Despite its social and cultural values for the communities, whether they will produce the same impact in the future is being debated very intensely among many scholars and politicians alike [3]. The land the farms are being planted upon can be used for land developments which can bring on jobs and economic growth, something that Detroiters very much need currently. Yet when the proposal for commercial farming came up during 2009 for Hantz Farms group, most people rejected it strongly and the city council acted according to the people’s wish [2]. The main reason was that it prioritizes commercial profit over any significant community values in return. It also highlights the challenge of deciding between two very different land uses: economic development versus community gardens.


 

Some has criticized the plan for its contradictions in ambitious, constituent-based planning [4]. Despite the economic benefits for the city by reducing the costs of maintenance and improving ecological footprints, skepticism still remains on the process by which this will be carried out. By calling for a “smaller, greener city”, the complications of embedded infrastructure and system can have a widely resonating effect across the region and shrinkage of the city by moving people from desolated areas by giving incentives is not a guaranteed success method. The water supply infrastructure, for instance, stretches across the region to many other cities and Detroit does not own the system. There are combined layers of “11 different land use plans and regulations” binding together which would make removal of the infrastructure quite difficult [4]. Moreover, because of its scale, there will be other constituents using the water system that will be against any major changes made.

The second issue is the resilience of the Detroiters living in the areas that have been effected greatly by blight. New York fiscal crisis in 1970 called for a planned shrinkage of the city yet was resisted strongly by people squatting in buildings that are to be removed, ad hoc managements in communities to protest and grassroots housing organizations to support the people who did not want to move away [4]. In addition, by promoting its planning policy around a democratic process, the power of eminent domain is would have negative public perception in enforcing the rules. Using this power would mean political suicide for any politician and explosion of public distrust of the framework entirely for breaking the promises in its guidelines. Combined with institutional, political and organizational layers of different interests and constituents, the plan to shrink the city is highly unlikely.

 


 

Work Cite:

  1. Joseph Stanhope Cialdella. (2014). A Landscape of Ruin and Repair: Parks, Potatoes, and Detroit’s Environmental Past, 1879–1900. Michigan Historical Review, 40(1), 49–72. http://doi.org/10.5342/michhistrevi.40.1.0049
  2. Lawson, L., & Miller, A.. (2013). Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture as Antithesis to Abandonment: Exploring a Citizenship-Land Model. In M. DEWAR & J. M. THOMAS (Eds.), The City After Abandonment (pp. 17–40). University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fh93k.4
  3. Kathryn J. A. Colasanti , Michael W. Hamm & Charlotte M. Litjens (2012) The City as an “Agricultural Powerhouse”? Perspectives on Expanding Urban Agriculture from Detroit, Michigan, Urban Geography, 33:3, 348-369, DOI: 10.2747/0272-3638.33.3.348
  4. Kirkpatrick, L. O. (2015). Urban Triage, City Systems, and the Remnants of Community: Some “Sticky” Complications in the Greening of Detroit. Journal of Urban History,41(2), 261-278. Retrieved February 24, 2016, from http://juh.sagepub.com/content/41/2/261.full.pdf html

List of Figures:

  1. Choo. K.. (2011). Plowing Over: Can urban farming save Detroit and other declining cities? Will the law allow it?. ABA Journal97(8), 42–70. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23034038
  2. Joseph Stanhope Cialdella. (2014). A Landscape of Ruin and Repair: Parks, Potatoes, and Detroit’s Environmental Past, 1879–1900. Michigan Historical Review, 40(1), 49–72. http://doi.org/10.5342/michhistrevi.40.1.0049
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