A Michigan-based financial group has announced ambitious plans to turn large swathes of crime-ridden Detroit into urban farmland.
In the long term, Hantz Group hopes to develop up to 10,000 acres of underutilized and vacant land in downtown Detroit -- almost a 10th of the city's 143-square-mile area -- and turn it into a mixture of cash crop land, ornamental gardens, and riding trails.
The ambitious scheme will begin with a 70-acre purchase on the city's east side. Matt Allen, senior vice present for Hantz subsidiary Hantz Farms, who lives close to the proposed "phase one farm," said that the land has been targeted for its low density, and currently supports between zero and nine residents per acre.
Under the proposals, the land will be sourced from privately held parcels, along with foreclosed land currently owned by the city, state and county. In addition to buying some land outright the company is also looking to enter into partnerships with local communities to help develop other parcels of land.
Hantz will be working with researchers from Michigan State University to select the types of crop that can be grown on the land, Allen explained. Where possible, edible crops will be grown, but where soil will not support them -- if, for example, it has been degraded by industrial use -- it will be used for non-edible crops.
"We hope to put in several hundred acres of Christmas tree farms, and also wood veneering projects or long-term sustainable growing operations where we can harvest wood and non-edibles," Allen explained.
The purchase price for the initial land is roughly $3,000 per acre, he added. The group hopes to purchase 5,000 acres over the next five years.
Sandra Pederson, founder of the urban farming community Urban Land Army, argued that the proximity to residential areas meant that organic farming methods should be used on the new development, although press reports indicate that due to time constraints the company will not be taking this approach.
"Since it is such a large area in an urban centre, for environmental and human health reasons, it would be really important to start off organic from the beginning," she said. "The potential for water, air, and soil contamination from using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on a large scale is significant -- and the negative impacts on residents' health would follow."
If given the go-ahead, the proposals would represent a drastic change in tack for administrators who have seen a city that grew on the back of the now-troubled automobile industry enter into a steady decline that has seen many areas succumb to chronic social problems. Large swathes of Detroit have been abandoned in a classic example of the "doughnut effect", in which poverty-stricken downtown areas are eviscerated as the middle classes take to the suburbs.
"We are past the tipping point, so there is no point in discussing it any more," argued Allen, who said that as a resident, he had an interest in seeing the area flourish. "It's been getting worse. Unless we make some radical changes, we will only continue to fool ourselves. What was Einstein's definition of insanity? To do the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result."
Image CC licensed by Flickr user Dave Hogg.