Monday, September 7, 2009

The New Settlers of Detroit

The economic recession has taken a particularly heavy toll on the American auto industry, and cities like Detroit which were once central to the industry have been gutted by job losses and home foreclosures in the past year. This effect has been so extreme that property in Detroit must practically be given away: Yahoo Real Estate shows dozens of homes around the city selling for mere hundreds of dollars. And still the population of Detroit, a city designed to support roughly 2 million people, has dwindled to less than a million, while the shutdown of many supermarket chains has created a food desert in the city.

Detroit's plight has been well covered in the news, and organizations are already forming to take advantage of the area's collapsed economy. Artists, sustainability enthusiasts, survivalists, and hippie-types in general are coordinating the mass purchase and transformation of land in and around the city. And since this recession coincides with a period of increased interest in locally-grown produce and sustainability, many efforts have a heavy focus on urban farming-- a fact which has received attention from Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture, the Beeb, and NPR among others.

Naturally there's a lot of hype surrounding the whole thing, and it will be interesting to see how this new influx impacts the culture of the city in coming years. For further reading, here are a few people and organizations currently involved in settling the area and documenting their impact:
  • Andrew Kemp is a resident of East Detroit who has bought up five lots in his neighborhood and is now farming four of them

  • Urban Farming is an NPO which farms vacant lots in Detroit and gives collected produce to the needy

  • Detroit UnReal Estate Agency is a group which tracks cultural development in Detroit and inventories cheap property in the area

  • the Yes Farm is a collective of artists and urban farmers living and creating in Detroit

  • the Power House Project is a social art project attempting to develop an efficient, sustainable home in the city for under $99,000

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