Approval of urban farm in Detroit sparks controversy yet offers promise

In September I wrote about Detroit, Michigan, and a new campaign to repurpose vacant parcels of land into urban farmland and revitalize the local ecosystem.

According to the New York Times, entrepreneur John Hantz offered to purchase 140 acres of abandoned land in Detroit to clear the empty lots of debris and plant roughly 15,000 hardwood trees. Hantz and his colleagues have said their plans for the land will increase economic activity, raise property values and add to the city’s tax base.

Support for this method of repurposing some of Detroit’s vacant lots is mixed.  Many agree that urban farming would diversify the city and be a more beneficial use of the land space, which currently supports foreclosed homes and crumbling buildings.  But some residents and city officials view the transaction as a land grab that Hantz will use for his own benefit.

Nevertheless, on December 11, the Detroit City Council approved the sale of the land to Hantz in a 5-4 vote.

A website developed to detail Hantz’s proposal states his intentions to transform blight to beauty, convert abandoned properties to fields for new agricultural production, create jobs and strengthen the city’s budget.  Hantz has witnessed the deterioration of Detroit over the years and says he wants his farm to not only be used for agricultural production, but also as an open area the community can experience and appreciate.

Additionally, Hantz plans to plant trees and encourage neighbors to enjoy their beauty and learn about the importance of urban trees, including how they can be used as a sustainable and profitable resource.

Photo taken from City Farm, a successful urban farm located in Chicago

Although it remains to be seen how the land will be developed, community participation will be important for the overall success of this project.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture advocates that active involvement from area residents  in projects like these is key to building an empowered, successful and more satisfied community.

Through its Tree City USA and Tree Line USA programs, the Arbor Day Foundation understands the positive impact urban forestry has on cities worldwide and therefore sees the potential benefits Hantz’s urban farm can have in the community.  There is significant promise in Detroit’s effort to build a new, green economy.