Detroit: From Motor City To Urban Farm?

This is car news, and it isn’t. But it is definitely…interesting.

Detroit was once the 4th largest city in America and it held the title of Motor City because most of America’s cars came from there. Flash forward 40 years, and Detroit’s population has dwindled from a high of 2 million people to just over 800,000. The average price for a home in Detroit is $15,000, the lowest in the country. With so many empty spaces, criminals have no shortage of hideouts and drug factories. And with America’s auto industry still reeling from the recession, as well as having outsourced many jobs to other states (or countries), the future looks bleak for Detroit’s long-deferred recovery.

Unless one millionaire gets his way, and turns the city into farms. Yes, farms.

John Hantz is one of the few remaining millionaires in Detroit, where the median family income is under $30,000. And the urban sprawl that Detroit encompasses is larger than Boston, Manhatten, and San Francisco combined. There is a lot of unused land in Detroit. This John Hantz thinking about how to use all of that vacant land. He is pitching a proposal to turn Detroit into a modern farming community. I think he might be on to something.

Cities have a lot of “green cred” going for them when it comes to public transportation, walkability, and making the most out of very limited space. But despite all of this, they still need to import all of their food, usually from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. It isn’t green, but it is necessary. Detroit is the perfect candidate for attempting urban farming on a massive scale because all that vacant land means plenty of planting opportunities.

Not only would it make use of otherwise blighted land, it would also offer employment opportunities for a city that desperately needs them. The jobless rate in Detroit stands at a whopping 27%. I’ve been to Detroit, many years ago, and what I saw then was sad; I can’t imagine what it looks like today (although pushing a dump truck out of  the top floor of a factory seems pretty cool).

Hantz’s idea calls for creating farm “pods”, each with its own residential frontage, placed strategically around the city. The pods will utilize the latest in green farming technology like compost-heated greenhouses and hydroponic systems. Hantz is willing to put up the $30 million himself to get the project started, once he gets a few concessions from the Detroit city government which includes new agricultural tax regulations, and access to non-delinquent land.

Will it work? I hope so, because if this happens (and I can convince my girlfriend to put up with Michigan’s bitter winters) I am heading out to Detroit to be an urban farmer. No joke. Sounds like the kind of city this country boy could enjoy. Plus, I could finally attend the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Source: Fortune | Image: Bryan Christie


Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.