A good reminder from a friend:
“Gardens cannot remediate everything.”
Also, in case you haven’t seen it yet:
When this came on at the Super Bowl party I was at, the snack crunching and cell phone texting stopped and the room was rapt. No gardens here. I don’t know if I trust luxury marketing to keep Detroit beautiful, but I get chills every time I watch it.
Lately I’ve become interested in how urban decline is represented in popular media. Here’s a quizzical example: Can you name the US cities that have less than two-thirds their peak population? (Sporcle)
People love to talk about, write about, and make art about Detroit—myself included, right—and usually popular representations of decline make it into a sad joke or something starkly beautiful. It’s a graveyard, it’s a dead zone, it’s empty; at best it’s a war. It’s becoming quite the schtick. But 900,000 people still live in Detroit, and yet the closest thing you get to an insider’s perspective in much of this is some artist or academic who moved away when he was 17 coming back to Flint to document how it’s fallen apart since he left. I also love how in the first five minutes of the documentary embedded below, the Detroiters interviewed are all white men in their 50s or 60s. Please. Last time I checked, Detroit was 82 percent black, 53 percent female, and 56 percent under 35.
Does anybody know of insider stories of decline? Grown in Detroit, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, comes close. And what characterizes an insider perspective? Realism instead of drama, a very small amount of hope and remnants of pride, evidence of life still being lived?
I gave a guy from NYC a ride to the airport a few weeks ago and he asked if we could drive around the city to see the carnage for a while first. I drove him straight to the airport. I don’t know where the Sporcle quiz falls in this, but give it a try. Oh, and Mr. New York: your state has more cities on this list than mine.
Catherine Ferguson Academy is an incredible place. It’s one of very few schools in America for pregnant girls and young mothers; it’s lowered the repeat pregnancy rate among its students to 10 percent, which is less than half the national rate for teen mothers; and for the past 9 years, all its graduates have been accepted into college.
It also turned its inner-city school yard into a farm in the middle of Detroit. Check out this trailer for Grown in Detroit a documentary about the school and farm.
Our group visited the school last week and met its powerhouse principal and some of the students. Whatever you want to say about the Motor City, it’s got some damn fine folks in it, and they won’t walk quietly into brownfield oblivion. West Michigan, you might think you have the corner on this state’s agricultural identity, but for all your heritage tomatoes and nostalgically named CSAs, I have yet to see alfalfa growing on empty lots in Grand Rapids.
Follow up to my last post; I found this article about Detroit left on the printer in the place I’m staying for the summer:
Susan Saulny, “Razing the city to save the city,” The New York Times, June 20, 2010.
From the article:
For instance, though many of the plans presented to the city for consideration aim to create density in viable neighborhoods by consolidating and relocating residents from dying or dead neighborhoods, most do not go so far as to say which areas they would choose for destruction. Those decisions, group leaders said, are for the city to make.
“What we believe is that it should be data driven, in collaboration with residents,” said Anita Lane, director of programs at Community Development Advocates of Detroit. Any process for redesigning the city, she said, “needs to have all the stakeholders coming together to take ownership for this.”
The article summarizes a lot of the main threads of the debate and highlights many important concerns, for instance, that relocation and downsizing feel like a land grab to a population that’s been disenfranchised in the past or that necessary financial resources are hardly available.
One thing it doesn’t address that I’d really like to see some research on is the feasibility of land-use change from urban to agricultural or wild. The article notes that in many places nature is ostensibly beginning to reclaim abandoned properties, but how about cleaning up brownfield sites, and how can we turn neighborhoods into farms when there are electrical lines and sewer pipes under every street?