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Detroit Restoration: And Justice for…Food?

543px-Belle_Isle,_river-environed_park,_Detroit,_Michigan,_from_Robert_N_Dennis_collection_of_stereoscopic_views_(extract)John Hantz has a vision for Detroit. Forests within the city limits, lined with paths for walking, biking, and enjoying the outdoors. Images of flowering trees, green grass, and shaded spots for reading come to mind. Crisp fall days filled with reds, oranges, and yellows. Detroit’s very own Central Park, perhaps?

It’s both a stark and welcoming contrast to the current reality. Lot after lot remains unused and unkempt. Uncut grass hides trash, tires, junk, and worse. Rotted out, unsafe homes tempt drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless. A constant state of disrepair is not uncommon. And it only does one thing to property values in the area.

The plan is to purchase about 1500 vacant lots from the city. About 140 acres will be purchased for $500,000. An initial investment of several million dollars will be spent to raze abandoned buildings, remove trash, and mow grass. Then the planting begins. Hundreds of trees including row after row of maples and oaks will be spaced throughout the properties. It’s a huge long-term investment.

It’s not without risk for Hantz Farms. But there are incentives as well. The option to purchase more properties, the chance to eventually sell some trees and ornamental crops, and possible tax incentives are all on the table. Mr. Hantz is, after all, a businessman. He understands that any good investment should be met with a return of some sort. That Hantz Farms sees potential in these dilapidated areas and should be met with thanks.

Instead the last four years have been a back and forth between city officials and Hantz Farms. While it appears many groups are in support of the project, several are not. Accusations of special treatment, land grabs, and plans to use pesticides have emerged. (These places are full of former drug houses and people are worried about pesticides)? People have accused Mr. Hantz of making the move to purchase the properties because he’s looking to increase the value of his own properties. (To which I say, “Duh”). The fringe groups are spreading rumors about genetically modified foods being grown and served to Detroiters.

Enter, Danny Glover. (Yes, that Danny Glover). He is protesting the purchase of the property by Hantz Farms. It appears to be because a corporation is making the purchase, rather than individuals. Listening to his interview with WDIV it appears he’s upset that the “haves” are purchasing the property from the “have nots.” Never mind that the “haves” in this case want to improve the quality of life in Detroit.

While investigating further, I came across the website (Food justice??) They’ve become a very vocal opponent of the project. Among the gems on their website, “Food Sovereignty includes liberating land through reclaiming urban and rural spaces for the production of food for communities; demanding the use of public lands for food production.”
Not surprisingly, “reclaim” doesn’t appear to mean “purchase legally.” It’s too bad this group doesn’t spend time fixing the real reason Detroit has been “abandoned by major supermarket chains.” Blight and crime would be chief among them.

The city can’t maintain these properties. Heck, they can’t even keep the lights maintained. Selling these properties makes fiscal sense. The city makes money. Unsafe dwellings and trash will be removed at no cost to taxpayers. Neighboring properties will increase in value when the blight is removed. Long term investments are few and far between in Motown these days. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Detroit.

I applaud the realization that Detroiters can plant urban gardens and share in their collective harvests. I do not support any group that feels it is owed property to plant said gardens. These fringe groups always seem to come out of the woodwork when others try to legally purchase abandoned property. Why can’t Detroit Food Justice pay for the property if they want it? Why would they speak out against what amounts to a paltry .157% of Detroit’s land? (You read that right. We’re arguing over less than 1% of the city; hardly a land grab).

With a multitude of lots available, why is the fight over these 1,500? A quick perusal of brings up thousands of properties available in Detroit. Hundreds of those properties are available for less than $5000. There are some available for less than $1000. Instead of lending his voice, couldn’t Danny Glover lend his checkbook? Purchase these vacant lots. Clean them up yourselves. Plant your gardens. Share your harvest.

That sounds a lot like what Hantz Farms is attempting, doesn’t it?

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Image: retouched extract from “Belle Isle, river-environed park, Detroit, Michigan.”;created: ca. 1880; current location: New York Public Library; Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs; public domain

Pauline Wolak

Pauline is a proud wife and mother of three. When she isn't being the world's greatest Girl Friday, she is volunteers her time as a school librarian and athletic director. Pauline enjoys football, politics, good beer, and arguing with anyone. She's a devout pro-life Catholic. Pauline believes in the 1st Amendment and uses it on a daily basis, most notably to ambush unsuspecting family members in political debate! You can find her work here at Clash and at Follow her on twitter at @MiStateFan.