Detroit, once a modern city thriving with industry, is sadly decaying and often reported as one of America’s most dangerous cities.  Parts of the city will remind one of the ghost towns of the west with whole city blocks left abandoned and forgotten by time.  However, there is a faction of the community, which has now turned mainstream,  pushing to do something unheard of! They are proposing the city’s economically ravished neighborhoods be turned back into farmland. The new farms will produce crops not only to feed the city’s population but to generate revenue. An idea on this scale has never been attempted before and would be an amazing feat if actualized.

The idea to turn urban landscape back to original farmland was first proposed in the 90’s when Detroit was already a city falling to ruin. However, with the latest recession, the city has seen the fallout play out tenfold. With the retreat of the automobile industry, the city has little left to fuel its economy and has some residents scavenging the urban landscape for food: even turning to rodent meat at times. There are no concrete details as of yet, the basic plan is to demolish largely abandoned neighborhoods and turn them into cultivating farmland. The city would be re-structured to include an Urban Core at the center and urban pockets and farmland stretching out around the core. New Geography did a great article and provided maps and pictures of the New Detroit plan. Commuters that once drove through miles upon miles of suburban and urban sprawl could possibly commute through miles of pristine farmland.

This plan, of course, is the hope for the future. Currently the mayor, Dave Bing, is trying to put forth a plan that will begin with demolishing some 10,000 abandoned homes and buildings within the next 3 years and pour investment money into stronger and more populated neighborhoods. This feat is a good starting place and looking at the whole plan may seem daunting, as metro Detroit is larger than the cities of San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined! However, supporters of the plan are confident this can be done, pointing out that other urban cities have done similar downsizing plans such as Youngstown,OH. And Detroit leads the way in urban farming with over 500 small farm plots currently supplying food for some of the city’s poorest residents. Mayor Bing has also pointed out that with the recession and budget out of control, the city can no longer afford to patrol the most abandoned neighborhoods.

The idea of downsizing urban areas sounds amazing and we love the innovation. However, there are some serious issues to consider. First, the funding for such a massive project of this scale will be through the roof. Detroit will either have to raise taxes, and with much of the city struggling this is unlikely, or look to the Federal government for funding. On top of funding political and socio-economic issues will come in to play. For instance who will decide which neighborhood to demolish and if people are still living in those sections of the city, what will happen to them? There is already backlash for some residents in this regard, as many have occupied their homes for generations. Just one look at history, and we know displacement is not an easy thing! Another issue to consider is where is all the waste from the demolition going to end up? Hopefully not landfills! And since this is an old city there are infrastructures to consider such as plumbing and power lines. Both will take extra energy to uproot not to mention money. We also hope the soil will be farm-able after centuries of industrial waste and occupation.

Whatever the issues are, the idea of reversing urban expansion and turning it into green space, growing crops to feed and bring in revenue for a whole city, is inspiring. We hope to see more details and a full plan produced in the coming years. If Detroit can pull it off, it will be inspirational for many cities dealing with recession woes and a shrinking population and growth. Is this a turn towards de-modernization of our current idea of the urban landscape? Is this just one hair brain scheme or are we on the cusp of a new era in cultural organization?

-Gina Williams