Despite the Motor City’s notoriety as a symbol of urban decay, development is actually going on in Detroit. And with almost 40 square miles of vacant land, Detroit has the chance to redefine urban renewal outright. The city recently took note of one major way some residents are turning blight into bounty: Mayor David Bing signed off on Michigan State University’s plan to seed urban agriculture in Detroit with $1.5 million over the next three years.
There are scores of farms and gardens already operating within the city. D-Town farms, Eastern Market, and Earthworks are among a network of urban agriculture outfits growing tons of produce within city limits. This has been going on for some time, but MetroFoodPlus—the name proposed for MSU research center—represents an unequivocal municipal endorsement of activity still prohibited by zoning.
Entrepreneurs like John Hantz hope to help put thousands of vacant parcels back on the tax rolls and recast Detroit’s infamous depopulation as a unique asset. Hantz hopes to acquire 300 acres on the city’s East Side, though his dream is 10,000 acres. He may find a helping hand in MSU’s innovation cluster. Their agreement with the city is short on details for now, but its stated goals are ambitious: to turn Detroit into a global hub for food system innovation.