Urban Renewal redefined?


Detroit urban farm

Image: Detroit, Michigan is a city in transition. With the car industry gone it will soon host the world’s biggest urban farm. (HantzGroup)

Urban Renewal  normally means more buildings not less.  This story is about a form of renewal in urban areas that replaces brown bricks with green fields.

Given that many of our urban settlements have been developed on once arable land, is restoration of some of that land to food production the way of the future?

Detroit was once the home of car manufacturing and the Motown record label, but both of these industries have left the city limits and the place is in decline. The population is down from 2 million to 700,000. Now the Hantz Group has cut a deal to pull down 120 houses in the inner city area and replace them with what’s considered to be the world’s biggest urban farm, as Greg Muller writes.

HantzGroup, Inc. is the parent corporation to a number of wholly or partially owned subsidiary companies.

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Hanz Group president, Michael Score, says it bought 1562 parcels of land for half a million dollars, though the total cost will be much more.

‘There are conditions in our agreement that increase the cost of this venture. We immediately pay property taxes of $50,000 a year and we’re obligated to take down at least 50 dangerous structures, and then clean up the parcels and assume the maintenance costs going forward. And then we’ll be planting trees over time as well.’

http://www.hantzfarmsdetroit.com/press.html

‘It’s a city that’s in transition… a lot of land needs to find a new use as there are a lot of vacant abandoned structures.’

‘The city has a property tax that is out of balance with maintenance costs. We have so few residents and so much land.’

‘Out of 139 square miles of city, the city owns about 40 square miles of property.’

‘Our venture will move some of that surplus property back into the market place.’

But Mr Score can see potential for other cities to follow Detroit’s lead.

‘We’re not the only city that will go through this transition, and I think other cities will copy some of the lessons that we learn.’

So could Detroit’s example be followed herein Australia? Hannah Maloney is president of the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network, and she thinks it’s a great idea, although she hopes no city here reaches the low point that Detroit did. ‘In Australia, 89 per cent of people live in the cities but most of our food comes from far, far away. We might not have 150 acres of land available in our cities like Detroit but we do have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of tiny paddocks, backyards or community and school gardens, but people are harnessing them to convert them back into food-scapes,’ Ms Maloney said. At this stage the city farm is not a feasible livelihood, but more of a weekend hobby or addition to people’s food sources. Ms Maloney is hoping that will change. ‘We need to work with people to access land, and partnerships with local businesses and local government will help do that, because in Australia land is incredibly expensive. Some of the best examples though are in Melbourne, at the CERES Community Environment Park which includes a two and a half acre garden on the banks of Merri Creek in the midst of the city.’ – ABC Bush Telegraph.

Urban farming as part of the renewal mix for Detroit is discussed in context by Toni Griffin at TED:

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