Breweries can improve slum and blight in a community by creating an adaptive reuse for derelict/vacant buildings such as old department stores, warehouses, churches, fire stations and train stations. Once the buildings are retrofitted as craft breweries, they have the potential to become a major catalyst for revitalization within a city, attracting additional visitors, job creation and investment.
THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES
“I thought: Can we measure this correlation of clustering of vacant houses the same way we made measurements about astronomy,” says Budavári. Next to unpacking the mysteries of the universe, Braverman says, “working with us would be relatively easy.”
[Vacant buildings, 400 block of Park Avenue (west side), Baltimore, MD (Photo Credit: Flickr/Eli Pousson)]
The idea is modeled after the 1973 “Dollar House” program, which sold rundown, city-owned houses for $1 and helped revitalize ravaged neighborhoods in the city throughout the 1980s. The original program also granted buyers low-interest loans to rehabilitate the properties as long as they lived in the homes for a certain amount of time.
Qian Wan , a mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate at SEAS, and co-author Bradley Pough, a J.D. candidate, provide data-driven recommendations city officials can use to battle urban housing blight.
Their paper, “Digital Analytics and the Fight Against Blight: A Guide for Local Leaders,” examines the problem of urban housing blight, identifies best practice uses of data analytics, and provides data-driven recommendations for municipal officials.
A man walks through a vacant lot in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
In other words, rather than wielding code enforcement as a way to punish offenders or extract revenue, Schilling argues that the wellbeing of residents ought to be restored as housing policy’s central purpose. “We need to return housing back to its roots,” he says. “Housing codes were initially framed as a way to protect public health. While there’s still some of that, it’s so often become secondary.”
The spokesperson Mark Carter said NHS, CIC and Globe Trotters organizations were supposed to help their parents and grandparents but instead they allowed the city to demolish their homes.
This is a row of four townhouses on East Grand Boulevard, three blocks from East Jefferson. If you stand on the sidewalk you can see the Detroit River – right where cars turn to reach Belle Isle. That’s what gives the area its name: Islandview. Paula Gardner | PaulaGardner@mlive.com
Detroit is still a city balancing rapid redevelopment downtown with slowly rebounding real estate market – and 90,000 vacant houses.
A pair of surviving rowhomes surrounded by vacant lots at dusk in Baltimore. The city has some 17,000 vacant buildings. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Budavari and Phil Garboden, a doctoral student in sociology and applied math, are working on a statistical tool to predict abandonment. They’re combining publicly available data with GIS technology to create a database of the city’s housing stock. This will serve as a base to do high-level statistical analyses that can help officials make better, data-driven evaluations of current and future interventions. It could help Baltimore study, among other things, when and why homes are abandoned, and at what point a vacant home starts affecting nearby properties.
Heather Eidson The Times
Abandoned and burnt homes stand vacant in this now-barren Gary neighborhood in 2010. Steel City Salvage is training contractors on how to salvage materials from abandoned homes.
The group estimates there’s a $12.8 million market value to salvageable materials sitting untouched in abandoned Gary homes. “Demolition contractors are critically important to supply the marketplace,” Delta Institute Director Eye Pytel said. “While there is a learning curve, training gives contractors the capacity to safely and effectively get the most valuable building materials out of homes.”
Before and after photos of a blighted property in Philadelphia. SOURCE/PENN URBAN HEALTH LAB
Based on these figures and the initial cost of remediation, the first-year return on investment to taxpayers for firearm assaults averted was $5 per abandoned building and $26 per vacant lot. The societal first-year returns on investment for firearm assaults averted were $79 for the remediation of an abandoned building and $333 for the greening of a vacant lot.“The immeasurable pain and void left when lives are lost to firearm violence sends a ripple effect through families and neighborhoods,” said Branas, director of the Penn Urban Health Lab. “This study demonstrates sustainable, replicable strategies that successfully reduce firearm violence. They can transform communities across the country, save lives, and provide well more than a full return on investment to taxpayers and their communities.”
Langfelder’s nearly year-old administration is in the early stages of drafting an “adaptive reuse” ordinance that may result in code modifications to remove some of the impediments developers encounter when they try to breathe new life into old buildings.
The 1000 block of North Stricker Street in west Baltimore’s Sandton-Winchester neighborhood, is slated for the demolition. Photographer: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Demolishing an abandoned building may be less complicated than figuring out what to do with the land it stood on. Detroit has sold land to neighboring home owners for $100 a lot, and it has experimented with a program to use vacant lots to prevent storm water from flooding the sewage system. In Baltimore, Hogan’s plan includes $600 million in redevelopment funding that may one day lead to new, affordable apartments and supermarkets. Initially, most lots will probably be converted into parks.
RecoveryPark Farms Detroit – rendering
Under the $15 million project, a 22-block area around the former Chene-Ferry Market will be transformed into a center of urban agriculture and hope for marginalized residents with significant barriers to employment. According to Duggan, 35 acres of city-owned land will be leased to the nonprofit organization from the Detroit Land Bank Authority for $105 per acre per year. In exchange, RecoveryPark will secure or demolish all vacant, blighted structures and replace them with massive greenhouses and hoop houses to grow produce.
DeCaprio is the head of Land Action, a nonprofit that he created in 2011 to assist tenants with eviction defense. Two months ago, Land Action launched a campaign to build one hundred micro farms in Oakland over the next five years. The farms will be anchored by tiny homes — less than 120 square feet in size — that will house low-income Oakland residents.
The plan hinges on the use of so-called “tax-defaulted property” — land that is worth less than the taxes owed on it. In Alameda County, tax-defaulted parcels typically have been abandoned by their owners and can be publicly auctioned after five years. But attracting buyers willing to pay the back taxes and fines can be challenging.
Despite the city’s strategy of auctioning blighted properties, houses like this remain 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. Vandals have stripped the home’s cypress floors and other architectural artifacts. Debbie Elliott/NPR
“We’ve still got a lot of blight. We’re by no means done,” says Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin. He says the city of New Orleans is waging an aggressive battle against blight, and has made inroads.
“We’ve either fixed up or demolished somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 units, as a city,” he says.
A poll by NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a little more than half of the people in New Orleans agree that progress has been made on dealing with destroyed and abandoned homes and other properties.
“The house up the street has stuff coming out of it. It keeps piling up. Where is the ticket for that? It just doesn’t make sense.” Devlin said.
In November, 7 Action News Reporter Ronnie Dahl exposed dozens of blighted properties owned by Perfecting Church. Some are vacant lots with illegally dumped debris. Others are abandoned homes, sitting wide open. One house, close to a school, was being used as a drug den.
Reducing blight and preventing its spread is best achieved when the solution incorporates the interest and input of active and engaged citizens. Whether it’s reporting abandoned houses to local authorities via an app or participating in public meetings to find the best way cities or neighborhoods can utilize vacant lots, solving these problems is best served from the bottom-up.
Technology is helping citizen engagement find a solution to urban decay. And many cities are starting to harness innovative civic tech products to begin to repair and rebuild some of the country’s most severely affected areas.
Eliminating decay in Detroit is a monstrous undertaking, but if Reclaim Detroit and the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force do what they intend to do, things are about to change — for the better.
Nearly 80,000 abandoned buildings loom over the city. No mayor has ever been able to make much of a dent in Detroit’s vacant properties. But Kevyn Orr, the state-appointed emergency manager, has allocated $520 million to tackle blight over the next six years.
Demolishing a home in Detroit is relatively cheap, costing about $8-10,000, and many consider this as the best option. So why not quickly tear down every single home? Negative environmental impacts include spreading asbestos and lead poisoning, which can affect neighboring communities with hazardous dust.
That’s why Reclaim Detroit, which began in 2011, is applying their in-depth research to push for “deconstructing” 10 percent (about 8,000) or more of the city’s abandoned buildings. And according to Jeremy Haines, Reclaim Detroit’s sales and marketing manager, they’re creating more jobs for locals, as well.
“Some of these cities waited for somebody to come and solve their problems for them. That day is no longer with us,” Uwe Brandes, executive director of the Masters Program in Urban and regional Planning at Georgetown University, said.
Since 2010, eight cities and towns have filed for bankruptcy. The economic crisis has led residents to join forces to find creative ways to rescue and rebuild their communities.
“My friend and I had this idea, well, why don’t we just grow food in the city. Seems like a really easy plan right?” Cheryl Carmona, in Baltimore, Md., said.
From that idea grew Boone Street Farm, an urban garden in a rundown East Baltimore neighborhood.
Great article in the New York Times this week on blight in California.
Ms. McLaughlin if you are reading this, we are solidly behind you and Richmond. If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know!
The mayor’s plan would buy and refinance underwater mortgages in an attempt to save the city from more boarded-up houses. Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Ms. McLaughlin has a plan to help the many Richmond residents who owe more money on their houses than their houses are worth, but it’s one that banks like Wells Fargo, large asset managers like
Pimco and BlackRock, real estate interests and even Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants, have tried to quash. Her idea involves a novel use of the power of eminent domain to bail out homeowners by buying up and then forgiving mortgage debt.
But the financial institutions have warned that mortgage lending would halt in any city that tried eminent domain — and they have lobbied Congress to ensure that the threat is not an empty one. Opponents have filed federal lawsuits, while real estate interests have made robocalls to residents and sent mass mailers warning that the plan would allow “slick, politically connected” investors to “take houses on the cheap.” (The idea is actually to buy mortgages, not houses.)
Fantastic article, read the entire piece here. This is a great model for inspiring change, Carol Ott and the artists are heroes in our book.
Baltimore artists have painted murals on 17 vacant buildings, including the house shown. Blogger Carol Ott, who advised them, faces vandalism suits. Jonathan Hanson for The Wall Street Journal
Since early 2009, Carol Ott has run a website called Baltimore Slumlord Watch. On an almost daily basis, she posts photographs of boarded-up or dilapidated buildings and the names and addresses of owners she identifies through public records.
Last month, Ms. Ott was sued for her role in a recent project in which artists painted murals on 17 vacant buildings in the city. Two civil lawsuits filed in state court in Baltimore allege the work was an act of vandalism at two properties and seek $5,000 to restore the buildings to their prior condition.
“We’re using these methods because nothing else has been working,” said the street artist who organized the project with $12,000 from an anonymous donor and goes by the name Nether. He counted it as a victory that one of the 17 properties has since been demolished.
Photo: Flickr (taberandrew) Many Indiana cities are facing urban blight due to home foreclosures.
Merritt says Indiana lawmakers are also seeking permission from the federal government to use upwards of $100 million for communities to tear down abandoned properties.
Inhabitat has a great feature on Reuse and Reclamation in landscape – check out their list!
Photo by Jill Fehrenbacher for Inhabitat
To highlight the significance of these spaces, and the potential that they hold to become something more than a blight, we’ve gathered up a series of projects that illuminate how designers use unlikely opportunities to transform landscapes into spectacular spaces—all while preserving their historic and cultural meaning.
Over a 10-week period, Detroit Future City — a Kresge Foundation-funded nonprofit that devised a 50-year planning framework for the city and now works to implement the plan— is teaming with NextEnergy, EcoWorks and an array of other partners to use vacant houses as a laboratory for reusing materials in a process called partial deconstruction.
Instead of just knocking houses down, crews are prying them apart, removing floorboards, unhinging doors and windows, salvaging hardware.
“This is blazing trails we haven’t gotten to before,” Kinkead said Wednesday, at a site in southwest Detroit, where a hard-hat crew was stripping a Pearl Street house down to its frame.
Erin Kelly, a NextEnergy program manager, is overseeing the project, systematically testing different approaches to salvaging building materials in a cost-effective way. The team has tried everything from a meticulous five-day deconstruction — likely to be too expensive for most sites — to a one-day “skimming” process that may prove practical.
Many property owners who break anti-blight laws would face tougher penalties under bills approved Thursday in the state House. Under the legislation, the worst offenders could spend up to a year behind bars.
State Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) says a number of Michigan cities have good anti-blight laws on the books. But she says the consequences for breaking those laws aren’t tough enough to deter people.
“So it puts the teeth into what those cities are trying to do in eliminating blight,” said Price.
Bank of America is accused of failing to maintain foreclosed homes it owns in minority neighborhoods in Toledo, a charge the bank denies, saying it markets its properties regardless of location.
The NFHA first filed a complaint against Bank of America in September, 2012, alleging the Charlotte bank had neglected homes in many working-class minority neighborhoods nationwide, violating the Fair Housing Act.
With Thursday’s announcement, the complaint now includes 20 metro areas.
In Toledo, fair housing officials visited 22 properties they said were owned by Bank of America. Eight were in predominantly black neighborhoods. Fourteen were in predominantly white neighborhoods.
NFHA said the properties in the predominantly black neighborhoods were four and a half times more likely to have substantial trash on the lot. The organization said two of the eight properties had unsecured, broken, or boarded doors. None of the 14 properties in a white neighborhood had that problem, officials said.
Oh dear. Do yourself a favor and head on over to Ben Marcin’s site and see his heart-breakingly beautiful photos. His work stops time.
One of the architectural quirks of certain cities on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. is the solo row house. Standing alone, in some of the worst neighborhoods, these nineteenth century structures were once attached to similar row houses that made up entire city blocks. Time and major demographic changes have resulted in the decay and demolition of many such blocks of row houses. Occasionally, one house is spared – literally cut off from its neighbors and left to the elements with whatever time it has left.
The property includes several pumping stations that used to provide water to the city. Those historic structures will be renovated to include a commercial kitchen that will serve as a food incubator for small businesses, including caterers. Land surrounding those buildings will include portable greenhouses known as “hoop houses” along the train tracks running alongside the parcel.
Partnerships are planned with Woodberry Kitchen, a restaurant that is seeking local produce for its menu offerings, and the nonprofit Humanim, which is planning a community kitchen on the site.
Devan said the project will create 100 construction jobs and eventually 100 permanent jobs.
BDC President Brenda McKenzie said the project will also be beneficial to the city and the neighborhood by providing access to healthy foods through a farmers market planned for the site.
“It’s also important in terms of reactivating that part of East Baltimore,” McKenzie said. “There’s been a lot of research done that shows foodie culture is another way for people to look at the city differently.”
Detroit, which filed an $18 billion bankruptcy July 18, is reeling from the loss of more than 435,000 jobs in its metro area from 2000 to 2010, according to federal data.
Greg Willerer is embracing urban agriculture in Detroit. By selling at farmers markets, local restaurants and a community-supported agriculture project that sells his goods directly to consumers, Willerer said he can make $20,000 to $30,000 per acre in a year.
This has left it with an abundance of underused property. The city is spread over 139 square miles and has an estimated 150,000 vacant and abandoned parcels, according to a report this year by Detroit Future City, a planning project created by community leaders.
Converting some of that land to farming could clean up blight and grow jobs, regional officials say. With sufficient consumer demand and the emergence of a local food-processing industry, 4,700 jobs and $20 million in business taxes could be generated, according to a 2009 study.
“It will help,” said Mike DiBernardo, an economic development specialist with Michigan’s agriculture department. “We have so much blighted land that we can create opportunities for entrepreneurs, and we can give people in the community something to be excited about.”
In the past two years, Alexander and his Community Progress team — which includes Emory Law alumni Leslie Powell and Sara Toering — have also aided the passage of land bank legislation in Georgia, Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania.
Simply put, land banks offer an effective tool for public officials to acquire, hold, manage, develop and/or resell problem properties, putting them back into productive use for neighborhood restoration, community investment and development, Alexander says.
And in recent years, the demand for help with establishing land banking reforms has only grown. “One of the reasons we created the Center for Community Progress was simply the volume of requests we were receiving from around the country,” he explains.
For struggling communities, the costs can be considerable: A 2010 study commissioned in Philadelphia found vacant and abandoned properties cost the city more than $20 million in annual maintenance costs and $2 million annually in lost tax revenues — not to mention the impact to community vitality and cohesion, Alexander notes.
State Senator Linda Coleman.
“There are people who would develop or rehabilitate some of these old, historic houses if they can get ownership of some of these properties,” Coleman said.
Under the new rules, the state will waive its lien and transfer the state’s interest to the new local land banks.
Local governments may then offer the property to entities for redevelopment. The new law also expands notification provisions for property owners who are still allowed to redeem their properties if they pay the back taxes.
Coleman stressed that the law was not designed to take away an owner’s property, but to put long abandoned land back to productive use.
Coleman and city officials said the provision opens several possibilities for Birmingham, including residential redevelopment and economic development.
“Economic development people are already trying to assemble sites for people who want to come here. The problem is you’ve got a piece in the middle with no clear title to it. This whole current process caused blight. This was always the missing piece because the process was too cumbersome.”
Go read this article on Grist right away!
Good samaritans in Ohio may be getting a reprieve from potential misdemeanor charges.
Today the state House is voting on a bill that would allow people to clean up vacant, blighted properties without fear of a trespassing charge. This measure essentially gives residents more power to improve their neighborhoods, harnessing NIMBY instincts for good. From The Columbus Dispatch:
Some residents hesitate to take care of the properties around them because they risk trespassing charges, said Tiffany Sokol, office manager of the nonprofit Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which boards up and cleans up vacant properties. The bill would allow individuals to clean up blighted land or buildings that have clearly been abandoned.
“Very ugly, nasty places,” [said Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D), the bill’s sponsor]. “These properties are an eyesore, a danger to their neighbors.”
The abandoned house at 4406 Brooklyn Ave. has been a blight on the Ivanhoe neighborhood for years.
On Wednesday, Kansas City Mayor Sly James, wearing a bow tie, a blue hard hat and an orange safety vest, climbed into the cab of an idling excavator and pulled a lever that unleashed the steel claw poised over the roof.
Wham ! Crackle! Whoosh.
Up from the smashed bungalow that someone once called home rose a cloud of plaster dust that choked onlookers, but James just grinned.
“It was a hoot,” he said later. “I loved it.”
James thinks the neighbors of that decaying hulk and 1,000 others just like it will love City Hall, too, when he makes good on his pledge to demolish or deconstruct all those houses and commercial buildings in the next 24 months.
Voters passed a half-cent sales tax in August that will produce millions of dollars to fund parks and public works improvements. But a side benefit is an accompanying use tax on out-of-state sales that will provide the city with a stream of income — up to $5 million a year — to get rid of the backlog of unsafe and unsightly buildings that depress neighbors’ property values.
Until now, the city has had only enough money in the budget to remove 130 houses a year. The new income stream will ramp up the pace nearly sevenfold, according to the mayor’s office.
The house James flattened is the first of 157 to come down between now and March, he said.
“This is just tear the sucker down,” James said, “and haul it away.”
Others will in some cases be taken apart carefully to salvage materials, with the work being carried out by inner-city residents who’ve been trained for the task by the Green Impact Zone.
Kansas City, MO – infoZine – EnergyWorks KC, an energy efficiency program managed by the City of Kansas City, MOs Office of Environmental Quality, is collaborating with the Green Impact Zone, a neighborhood transformation initiative managed by Mid-America Regional Council, to put trainees that completed an April 2011 deconstruction training course to work.
“These trainees learned valuable skills that will enable them to repurpose materials and help restore our neighborhoods,” said Jenifer Degen, EWKC contract manager.
Through this project, EnergyWorks KC seeks to divert materials previously categorized as “waste” from landfills and thus preserve our countrys resources. The process of deconstruction salvages and recycles materials such as doors, sinks, windows, lumber, plywood and other building components that retain value.
“The homes selected to be deconstructed were chosen directly from the City of Kansas City, MOs Dangerous Buildings list. Materials will be weighed and tracked to determine the tonnage saved, and a concerted effort will be made to reuse and then recycle as many items as possible before sending the remaining materials to the landfill,” Degen said.
This month, the City of Kansas City, MO, will issue a bid by the procurement office, to be posted on the Citys Plan Room. All interested contractors are invited to bid. Note that Davis Bacon wages will apply to this project.
The emphasis of the EnergyWorks KC program is to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings throughout Kansas City, MO. Other program components include water conservation education, regional energy efficiency education, creation of a small business incubator, neighborhood energy efficiency projects, workforce development and job creation.
It’s our dream to rejuvenate our city by returning to our agrarian roots, by creating the world’s largest urban farm right here in Detroit, a sustainable producer of agricultural goods. Owned, operated and staffed by Detroiters, Hantz Farms will provide:
Green jobs for local residents. We’ll help Detroit progress to the mixed economy that’s so important for our future.
A cleaner, greener environment for our children. We’ll clear away the garbage, the blight, the debris, and establish beautiful, well managed agricultural crops. In every aspect of Hantz Farms, we plan to use only recyclable materials and aim to reduce waste to nearly zero. We’ll also reintroduce Detroiters to the beauty of nature.
Synergy for local businesses. Tourists coming in to Detroit to visit Hantz Farms—not just for an annual event, but on a daily basis—will patronize other businesses as well.
Consolidation of city resources. Detroit’s fire, police and public works departments can better serve city residents when freed from the burden of nearly abandoned neighborhoods.
We can build a new, green economy in Detroit, and lead the world by example. Join us.
To find out more, contact Mike Score, President-Hantz Farms at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Houston, TX – Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Council Member Larry Green, the Houston Contractors Association (HCA), neighbors and community leaders kicked off the City’s 3rdAnnual Demo Day at a dilapidated and unsafe building at 4007 Ebbtide Street in southwest Houston Friday morning.
A total of approximately 189 blighted structures throughout the city will be razed as part of the mayor’s 2012 demolition initiative. The structures approved for demolition were selected from a list of properties for which the hearing order date has expired and which the owner has failed to bring into compliance.
“One of my highest priorities for Houston is improving quality of life and making our neighborhoods safer. Clearly, the problem of dangerous and abandoned buildings is urgent,” said Mayor Parker. “This year’s demolition plan aims to make the best use of limited resources, working in partnership with the Houston Contractors Association to reduce the problem. It is a fiscally-responsible plan that gives first priority to those structures assessed as the most dangerous.”
In the neighborhood of the also-abandoned St. Cyril Church, the tract—if not redeveloped—could someday add significantly to the acreage devoted to urban agriculture. Photo by James Griffioen.
It’s a warm day in April, and Skip Wiener is showing off the crown jewel of gardens that the Urban Tree Connection has created out of 29 vacant lots in the poverty-ridden Haddington neighborhood on Philadelphia’s west side.
The site, tucked away in the center of a block of 60 homes, once was used by a construction firm for storage. When Wiener, the founder and director of the UTC, was first alerted about the property by a local block captain, it was overgrown, riddled with industrial waste, and a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes.
It was just what the UTC was looking for. The nonprofit organization supports renewal efforts in low-income communities by turning abandoned open spaces into various types of gardens, including some devoted to growing fruits and vegetables.
The site is now called the Neighborhood Food Central Production Farm. Any remaining debris has been pushed to the side; wood chips have been sprinkled over the driveway; and, in the center, neat rows of vegetables are growing, marked by cheerful hand-painted signs announcing such crops as potatoes, bok choy, collards and cabbages.
The “farm” is special, partly because of its comparatively large size—two-thirds of an acre—but also because it’s the only property over which the UTC enjoys actual legal possession. On the others, says Wiener, the organization’s founder and executive director, “we’re basically squatting.”
The UTC’s farm typifies a growing but still uncertain movement to bring agriculture back to America’s cities.
The Georgia Street Community Collective exists not only to supply the community with fresh fruits and vegetables, but to provide education and leadership skills to area youth. It also supports a community center/library.
The Georgia Street Community Collective exists not only to supply the community with fresh fruits and vegetables, but to provide education and leadership skills to area youth. It also supports a community center/library. Photo by James Griffioen.
Across the nation, thousands of urban gardens and farms are sprouting on empty lots, on parkland and in schoolyards. Food is being grown on rooftops, on traffic strips, even in containers hung on the sunny sides of buildings. And it’s not just produce. Pigs, goats, bees and chickens also are becoming city residents in growing numbers.
Municipalities are embracing agriculture not only as a means to combat a host of urban woes—hunger, air pollution and the proliferation of derelict, crime-ridden abandoned properties, to name a few—but as a cornerstone to efforts to make themselves healthier and more sustainable.
For the most part, however, local land-use regulations are lagging behind the fast-growing urban agriculture phenomenon. “Most cities don’t have zoning categories that recognize agriculture activities,” says Domenic Vitiello, who teaches urban planning at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Cities across the country are scrambling to update ordinances to regulate—and often facilitate—a variety of agricultural activities, including community gardens, commercial farms, backyard chicken coops and beehives. Meanwhile, many urban food growers and agricultural businesses operate under a cloud of extralegality, waiting for the law to catch up.
An important question, though, is whether all these legal changes will matter in the long run. It’s still uncertain whether agriculture will become a permanent feature of the landscape in U.S. cities or whether it is a short-term response to setbacks caused by the Great Recession and other economic factors.
This is not the first time U.S. cities have made agriculture part of their landscapes. It happened during other major economic downturns, and both of the 20th century’s world wars. Some 20 million victory gardens were planted during World War II, producing an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
But after each crisis passed, agriculture largely returned to its rural homeland. When World War II ended, the victory gardens disappeared as the plots they took up were put to more traditional urban uses.
Gary Wozniak regards his domain with the enthusiasm of an evangelist. Where most people would look at these wide expanses of Detroit blight and see dark despair, he sees nothing but gleaming possibilities.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?: Gary Wozniak stands in the abandoned Detroit municipal garage where he plans to install an indoor tilapia operation, partnering with an Ohio company looking to expand. The graffiti will stay. (Bridge photo/Nancy Derringer)
“This is the center of the farm,” he said, gazing over the corner of Warren and Grandy on Detroit’s near east side at a vacant lot waving with overgrown grass on a windy spring day. Not long ago, it was where Northeastern High School stood. Today, it’s ground zero in an agreement Wozniak hopes to make with Detroit Public Schools and the city to convert it to one of the city’s most ambitious urban agriculture projects — one that will eventually encompass everything from organic fruits and vegetables to an indoor tilapia farm in an abandoned municipal garage.
Yep, you read it. Fish, farmed, in a garage, in Detroit.
Wanna see more?
Hops growing on trellises surrounding an abandoned factory? Sure.
Plastic-wrapped hoop houses yielding fresh spinach in the midst of a Michigan winter? Why not?
And all of it to be run by recovering addicts — providing stability, job training and income, in a self-sustaining model.
“The farming is really a small piece of the pie,” said Wozniak. “I’m really interested in food-system development.” That is, creating new, shorter lines between where food is grown and where it’s consumed, mitigating such related headaches as pollution and poor nutrition.
It’s almost insanely ambitious, but the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation of Bloomfield Hills recently announced a four-year, $1 million grant to RecoveryPark, the umbrella organization for Wozniak’s plan. RecoveryPark is, technically, a redevelopment project, but what a redevelopment.
In a three-square-mile piece of one of the city’s most abandoned neighborhoods, Wozniak proposes taking it more or less full circle, bringing back not just farming, but 19th-century farming – labor-intensive, small parcels, minimal processing. Not giant combines and acres of soybeans, but food, healthy food, for people.
“This has really made me see the ‘power of we’ like never before,” Wozniak said.
Chillicothe, Mo. —
The city of Chillicothe is seeking grant funds to help pay for the demolition of up to 61 vacant and deteriorating houses, thus eliminating some safety hazards and community eyesores.
Read the entire article via 61 houses on demolition list – Chillicothe, MO – Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune.
Aesthetics aside, however, this ‘remodel’ is of course designed to remind people of just how many homes are left to rot in our current economic crisis as well as in general within the city limits of hard-up towns like this poster-child.