Sunday, July 28, 2013

Detroit's Anarcho-Tree Farm Controversy

I have written before about the Hantz Woodlands Tree Farm project in the most blighted areas of Detroit's east side. This was a subject of great pain and controversy prior to the sale of the first land plots to John Hartz. In late 2012, the Hantz Woodlands deal was approved, allowing 1,500 lots to be sold to Hantz for his for-profit project. Billed the "world's largest experiment in urban agriculture," this issue was highly controversial from the get-go.

The controversy brewed because small - but vocal - groups of Detroit residents expressed the views that this was a "cheap land grab" in poor areas by a rich guy. Hantz was called an evil speculator, and in many cases, residents expressed the view that the Hantz purchase of property in Detroit was akin to slavery. Hantz is white, so the racial tensions and same-old-same-old polarization quickly became obvious.

Opponents expressed opinions that poor neighborhood residents would suffer as a result of an organized, managed urban agriculture project entering their neighborhoods, replacing 140 vacant acres strewn with tires, trash, blighted buildings, and occasional bones or dead bodies. Meanwhile, Hantz is paying taxes on the land while demolishing fifty blighted buildings, removing massive amounts of household trash and tires from his properties, and mowing down grass and weeds. So certainly, the poor are suffering from the oppressive clean-up of the areas they have allowed to decay for decades?

The land may have been fairly cheap on a per-acre basis, but when is the last time anyone has come in and offered to risk his money and turn miles of Detroit hellhole blight into productive use, while waiting years, or decades, for a return profit? In a December 2012 article on Truthout, there is this quote:
The foremost advocates and practitioners of urban agriculture in Detroit opposed the Hantz proposal. It is groups like Feedom Freedom Growers, Earthworks Urban Farm, the Garden Resource Program and D-Town Farm that have informed the nation and the world that Detroiters are serious about urban agriculture.
I have long acknowledged, supported, and given press time to the amazing urban agriculture that has been sweeping the city of Detroit. Even better, I support it with my dollars as I purchase a lot of my food from the local growers. And I agree that because of the city's bumbling crew of ragtag politicians who have been spinning in the wind without any forward motion, these creative and productive growers are not able to easily purchase vacant, unkempt land so that they can turn it into productive or profitable use. I blogged about Detroit urban agriculture homesteading in the past, including this short story on the repurposing of land in spite of government ineptness.

However, forcing an entrepreneur to endure the same level of political incompetence "to even things up" is neither beneficial or constructive for Detroit or its east side residents.

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