I’m curious about the dichotomy presented in the two articles about the planned mega-farm in Detroit. On the one hand, you have the morally pure, locally involved, community-rather-than-profit minded initiatives taking place in a few places around the city (how wide-spread or effective these movements are is not mentioned in the Huffington Post article—I’m sure someone in the class knows more about these than I do); on the other hand, the big-business, profit-minded, asocial land grabber with methods sinisterly resembling those used for gross land injustice in other areas with severely underappreciated land. Yet it seems to me that, regardless of motives of the investor, the actual idea of consolidating large swaths of currently widely-dispersed and underused property for conversion to a more vegetated state may be a good one.
One of the fundamental difference in the takes between the two articles on the mega Detroit farm seems to be whether or not increasing property value is a good thing for the local residents. The open, stated goal of the purchaser is not a secret and it is not about productive agriculture – it is to increase land values, remove square mileage from Detroit’s boundaries that is stretching the city’s infrastructural capacity, and (most problematically) to privatize the land. What is the solution the Huffington Post article is proposing (genuine question)? Isn’t it possible for very small-scale and local projects to complement larger, more structural projects? If Hantz is buying empty lots, who is he displacing? This doesn’t seem to be quite the same social setup as buying land out from under native residents of Latin American countries to get their water rights. The implication here is that any increase in property values will be bad for people who already own property, and yet from a sustainability aspect it is not clear that this is bad – in The Carbon Efficient City, p. 97, an increase in land values around a new park in Illinois is cited as a good thing. This is a difficult topic worthy of a book in its own, but a simplistic equation of quality of urban life with property value seems unachievable here or useful in dismissing the value of a mega-farm project. In the spirit of encouraging density and compact habitation patterns, wouldn’t removing a chunk of currently widely-dispersed and underused property be beneficial in encouraging that trend? It seems that the largest issue here is that a single owner stands to profit from the misfortune of the city. How could any potential profits be dispersed more fairly? Could the project be set up as a board of community advisors and the eventual profits put into a fund for community projects or further urban investment? Instead of planting non-productive trees just for the sake of keeping the land in a holding pattern, why not plant them in a way to provide community access – public urban nature, as is so important to a city that is desirable enough to attract the kind of mass necessary to make a city sustainable? Surely this project could be handled in a way that would allow an investor to recoup his money and make the project financially worthwhile, while maintaining local benefit. Perhaps the City of Detroit and Hantz should look to the investment model of the brothers in New York in much smaller property for a scalable, mutually acceptable solution. Or send the whole idea to Kickstarter! However it might be approached, at $300 a parcel, this seems like a fairly financially achievable project that with the right oversight and cooperation could be both profitable and beneficial to all sides.