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Recycling an entire city – making Detroit bloom again

February 3rd, 2010 · 3 Comments

John Hantz proposes to create the largest urban farm in the world right within Detroit, hoping to making Detroit bloom again

urban farm design

Quite possibly, Detroit is the city that took the hardest hit from the current economic recession. Detroit, the mighty symbol of the American car industry has floundered along with the industry that has employed generations of autoworkers in this city and its suburbs. How do you make a city that has been on a steady decline long before the current crisis bloom again?

Shrinking City

Detroit reached its peak in the 1950s, right after the war when the American car industry was at the height of its power, dominating virtually all markets of the free world. Over 1.8 million people called Detroit their home, back then. Fast-forward to 2010 – facing a staggering unemployment rate of 27% and a crime rate index of 901.1 (compared to US average 320.9), the Motor Town today houses about 900,000 people and will probably be a city of 700,000 individuals when things start to hit bottom. That was its population before the 1920s! How do you revitalize a city in a rapid depopulation tailspin?

Man with a vision

Enter John Hantz, a man with a vision, who wants to see Detroit on its way up again. Mr. Hantz is one of the few remaining wealthy entrepreneurs who have stayed in Detroit hoping, perhaps, to find great opportunities in a city that offers so few to her residents. Formerly a stockbroker at American Express, he went on to open his own firm – Hantz Financial Services – which has grown to employ 500 people in 3 states and has an impressive $1.3 billion in assets under management.

Mr. Hantz strategy for Detroit’s revival? Urban farming.

Watch: Community urban farming in Detroit

Revitalizing Detroit

How do you make a farm become a catalyst for growth in Detroit? John Hantz wants to create a large urban farm (the largest in the world) or several smaller farms – “pods” – within the city limits of Detroit that would deploy the latest innovations in agricultural technology – compost-heated greenhouses, hydroponics, aeroponics – all geared towards harvesting the maximum yield from an inherently limited planting space. He also wants his farm to have a modern, uncluttered design, to attract tourists and residents, adding value to the land and the business.

His vision is to operate a farm that would provide gainful employment to many city residents, supply the food establishments and stores in the city and surrounding areas with fresh fruits and vegetables, and become a model in urban farming for people from all over the world to visit.

The main objective, of course, is to stimulate growth – raise the real estate value of the farm and surrounding sections of the city, encouraging investors to come in, creating “scarcity” of available acres to raise land value to higher levels. It will take a bit of time, it appears, for Mr. Hantz to create scarcity of land in Detroit, a city that can easily accommodate a population that’s thrice as large its projected 700,000 population.

Land-grab Move?

Critics are wary that the farm idea is nothing more than an elaborate scheme for Mr. Hantz to amass huge tracts of idle city lands. He’s asking the city for free tax-delinquent lands, which he will combine with his own acquisitions (at $3,000 per acre?) to create the farm. He also wants a zoning adjustment to designate his locations as agricultural zones, for lower tax rate.

Other critics of Mr. Hantz’s plan are those who have pioneered urban farming in the city, albeit, in a much smaller scale than what he envisions. Some organizers and leaders of the 900 or so small urban community farms that are thriving in Detroit fear the “corporate takeover of the urban agriculture movement.” This last observation has some basis – the small community urban farms of Detroit have been so successful, they have gradually transformed the city into a self-sustainable green enclave and could very well spark growth, even without Mr. Hantz.

Mr. Hantz dismisses these criticism as “fear-based” and maintains that he’s only focused on “viability and sustainability.” Detroit has initiated many revival attempts in the past, but none seem to have worked, so far.

In a country facing great financial difficulty, each city needs to carve out its own path towards recovery. Detroit has few options left – Mr. Hantz’s vision might just provide that much-needed spark to make the city bloom again.

Fortune: Can farming save Detroit?
Detroit City Data
Detroit – Wikipedia

Photo: Fortune – CNN Money

Tags: Sustainability

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rien Matras // Feb 3, 2010 at 7:15 am

    This is a enormous plan. I think that Detroit can be a booming industry city again if the car industry should only focus on electric cars of other techniques without gasoline. Or focus on the industry of making for example equipment for solar energy, wind or other types of energy.

  • 2 Wilma Diaz // Feb 10, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Land grab, that’s what it is! We don’t need these suits to tell us about community gardening in Detroit. See for yourself, Detroit is becoming one huge urban farm, thanks to the hundreds of neighborhood and community gardens here.

  • 3 matt from house clearance // Feb 22, 2010 at 3:37 am

    the future is all about going green and a city that would have that in its sights would do well. There is a new big industry and thats the recycling and green way industry