Back to the Land in Detroit?

The city of Detroit has gotten a lot of attention recently, most of it lamenting how far its fortunes have fallen. Time
magazine has even sent reporters to live in a Detroit neighborhood for
a year, covering it as if it were a foreign country — which, in a
sense, it is. Foreign at least to the American self-image of infinite
growth and expansion.

Detroit’s population has plummeted. Huge swaths of land lie vacant. Houses have gone feral.

But Streetsblog Network member Planning Pool sees the city’s radically distressed circumstances in a different and admittedly rose-colored way — as an opportunity:

3982437635_3b783ffeaa_b.jpgPhoto by x3nomik via Flickr.

Detroit’s strength is in its weakness. By that I mean the city affords
many opportunities to artists, entrepreneurs, urban homesteaders, and
people who do not want typical 9-to-5 lifestyles. Large, vacant
commercial space can be rented out to start-ups at basement sale
prices. People can buy homes and land for almost nothing, grow their
own food, and form communities of similarly-minded people. Imagine if
residents were given financial or technical assistance to build farms,
solar panels, micro turbines, grey water systems, vermiculture compost
systems, and other household-level or block-level amenities that local
government can no longer afford to provide. Not only is the government
relieved to pursue more pressing problems, like education and crime,
but people are empowered to run their own communities. In turn, people
are relieved of having to join the 9-to-5 workforce – with no mortgage,
no car payments and insurance, little -to-no utility payments, and a
small food bill from farming, people can use their time to invest in
their community or take risks, like starting new companies or producing
works of art.

The
writer of the post cops to "youthful optimism" (who’s going to provide
that "financial and technical assistance"?) and her vision is pretty
extreme. But so is the situation on the ground in Detroit. Your
thoughts?

More news from the decaying industrial frontier: The fine blog Rust Wire has a piece on young Buffalonians who are returning to their native city with some bright ideas.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Sure, one can go to Detroit to grow their own food, form communities of similarly-minded people, and be murdered. That last one is the sticking point for most people.

    Also the weather stinks.

  • Fran Taylor

    Are the new homesteaders working with the people still living in Detroit, who are overwhelmingly poor and African American and still number in the hundreds of thousands, more than the population of San Francisco? This posting doesn’t convey any sense of interaction with those Detroiters who have no means to leave, and the first comment above seems to reflect a frightening lack of interest in what their lives have become. The possibilities are indeed exciting but not if they result in some kind of new apartheid.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Fran: I think we agree. The problem with the article is the “urban pioneers” come in, buy a warehouse or derelict mansion, throw a couple of whopping great parties for their hipster friends, then when dad’s credit card is maxed out they go back to where they came from and take a job managing the Best Buy. In the meantime the city and the people who are already there gain nothing.

  • zsolt

    Paging James Howard Kunstler!

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