Posting in Cities
A proposal to rebuild an economic base by coming full circle back to agriculture.
Detroit, Michigan is one of those places even hard luck has chosen to pass by. The city, long tied to the auto industry, has lost most of its manufacturing base, and close to a third of the 139-square mile cityscape is abandoned land and buildings.
What to do with all that abandoned space? Let the city take it over and convert it to parks and recreation areas? Not plausible for a cash-strapped municipal government stretched far beyond its means just providing basic services.
John Hantz, founder and owner of Hantz Financial Services -- and still a city resident -- has another idea, based on some projects he's seen in some other areas. Turn a huge swath of the city back into farmland.
Hantz was recently interviewed by Fortune's David Whitford on the proposal. Hantz is also willing to commit $30 million of his own money, and sees a lot of upside potential to the idea:
"Farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and -- most important of all -- stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in."
Hantz believes by consuming large pieces of available land across the city for farms, the result, in economic terms, will be a 'scarcity' of available property -- which would help increase the value of surrounding properties.
The Detroit farms won't resemble the quaint spreads with barns and silos you see across rural North America, however. Rather, they will be multi-level state-of-the-art complexes employing the latest in farm technology, "from compost-heated greenhouses to hydroponic (water only, no soil) and aeroponic (air only) growing systems designed to maximize productivity in cramped settings."
Hantz also has some powerful supporters for the proposal. Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, now chairman of CityView, a private equity firm that invests in urban development, is a booster for urban agriculture. The American Institute of Architects also agrees that "Detroit is particularly well suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale."
Fortune's Whitford also quotes Alex Krieger, chairman of the department of urban planning and design at Harvard, who says cities of the future may resemble "a checkerboard pattern" with "more densely urbanized areas, and areas preserved for various purposes such as farming."
It's an irony, since a century ago cities grew to huge proportions as people fled agrarian lifestyles to pursue better opportunities. Now, agriculture may pave the way to a new urban renaissance.
Dec 31, 2009
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This might be a good opportunity to test out theories and processes proposed by the Venus project team...
Scientific American ran an article called "Growing Vertical: Skyscraper Farming" in October 2008. Lots of pluses on paper, but lots of unknowns, too. So far as Detroit would be concerned, the "land" issue is irrelevant. Converting an office building to hydroponics is relevant.
Well they questions about the soils usefulness are valid other then the story said this will be indoor hydro and aeroponics farms yes as far as soil outdoor growing that wont happen due to the cost it would take to clear the land and refill and then monitor it for pollutants and poisons. No one would isnk the billions need to do it. Indoor I am doubting you get enough funds to demo and rebuild to the need specs required by indoor hydro and aero growing ops then you hasve to convince people to come live there to work the limited jobs and bring kids into a horrid school and public environment. Detroit may be a true lost city
How about forgiving delinquent property taxes? Offering tax/other incentives to businesses? It isn't only the cheap labor that drives companies to invest outside of the US! Deregulate to an extent and show businesses they can profit by moving/building in Detroit. If Detroit's great thinkers put their heads together and make Detroit more attractive than China or Mexico you'll see business spring up there like you wouldn't believe. Now, if indeed these great thinkers could figure out a way to keep dear old uncle Sam's greedy hands out of it all legally, they indeed would be great. As we're seeing more and more, the U.S. government is no friend to business, but a stumbling block. The balance has shifted too far in one direction - and the pendulum will be coming back. So, why not be ahead of the curve?!
Detroit died of self inflicted wounds. Both from the (lack of) management in the auto industry and the belligerent social attitudes of the political leaders. I love the idea of green, but what has changed that would let any business succeed in Detroit? Other than a few billion of "green" from friends in Washington.
Lawrence MA had the distinction of being the arson capitol of the world for several years in the 1980's. Part of the problem was urban density and the problems that come with having 70,000 people live on 7 square miles of land. To improve things, the city started controlling the rebuild of burnt out buildings by enforcing zoning laws. Population density was reduced when destroyed buildings with 3 or more appartments were replaced with duplexes. Off street parking improved, property values went up across the city. The increased tax revenue allowed the city to lower it's tax rate a few times while still increasing police and fire protection. Over 100 constantly flooded homes in a flood plain were demolished to form a string of parks along a small river. The sad part of the story is HUD fought the city every inch of the way saying the city could allow several hundred burnt out and flood damaged buildings to stand unoccupied for often decades, but to permenently replace them with fewer rental units was not allowed. They had to fight the US government for over 20 years to prove rebuilding a blighted area without changes did not make sense. I am glad to say the city is much nicer with a few new parks and a population of around 55,000. Another positive is when property values fell as much as 40% in neighboring suburban towns during 2008/2009 the values in Lawrence only fell 25%.
Garbage! The profit from farming can't pay city taxes. For farming the farmers can only pay farm taxes. That means no city, just low country taxes. To survive, cities like Detroit must increase public safety and code enforcement. A city must protect its residents safety and the quality of life. Some cities have done so, others don't have a clue. When times are tough you never cut public safety, you increase it because a bad economy increases crime. And you always maintain your code enforcement. You can cut wages, benefits, parks, garbage collection to every other week, etc. But you can never reduce the safety of the residents in the city without the city falling into chaos.
Please note that Michigan just legalized medical marijuana. Vacant ghetto and suburban housing soon will be dedicated to "agriculture" sans development money. One question: is the factory land polluted by lead and/or other dangerous pollutants?
Detroit has been an industrial city for a long time before we became conscious of environmental concerns, meaning decades of toxic materials carelessly disposed of. The cost of the extensive testing and clean-up required to assure safe farmland would cost far more than the parks and greenspace they'd like to create would cost.
I'd like to know more about the methods proposed here for converting, for example, urban high rises to agriculture centers. My feeling is that in order to compete with traditional agriculture, simplifying the production in terms of energy input, maintenance requirements, and environmental impacts will be most crucial. For future agriculture practices to work in this direction, I think a key step will be incorporating the principles of permaculture, where many species of plant (for food) (and in some cases animals) are integrated to optimize the production conditions of one another, i.e. set up so the waste of one is the food for another etc., and energy sources such as light and water and stored or used efficiently. Turning Detroit's abandoned areas into urban agriculture is a brilliant idea, but to succeed as a model for future agriculture developments, it must demonstrate that clever planning and organization can compete with the efficiency of traditional modern agriculture and overcome issues such as fertilization and the energy requirements of water control (pumps), HVAC systems, and lighting that have made hydroponics systems too costly to implement on a large scale. The ability of permaculture to address these issues combined with the self-sustainability of it make it more appealing than the techniques referred above as part of the proposal, both from a logical and business standpoint, though little detail was given above. Where might I find details on this proposal?