If thinking about Detroit conjures up depressing images of battle-scarred landscapes, you must read Mark Dowie’s proposal to turn the city into an “agrarian paradise.” Writing for Guernica, Dowie lays out an ambitious argument for why this maligned city—which is home to zero grocery chains or big-box stores and is very nearly a complete food desert—“may be best positioned to become the world’s first 100 percent food self-sufficient city.”
The most intriguing visionaries in Detroit, at least the ones who drew me to the city, were those who imagine growing food among the ruins—chard and tomatoes on vacant lots (there are over 103,000 in the city, 60,000 owned by the city), orchards on former school grounds, mushrooms in open basements, fish in abandoned factories, hydroponics in bankrupt department stores, livestock grazing on former golf courses, high-rise farms in old hotels, vermiculture, permaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, waving wheat where cars were once test-driven, and winter greens sprouting inside the frames of single-story bungalows stripped of their skin and re-sided with Plexiglas—a homemade greenhouse. Those are just a few of the agricultural technologies envisioned for the urban prairie Detroit has become.
Dowie examines a few interesting proposals and checks in with several burgeoning urban-farming movements in the city, from nonprofits and schools to the “backyard garden boom” being spurred by immigrants from Laos and Bangladesh.
He also meets a few skeptics who are wary of a field-filled Detroit, but he remains excited at the prospect of the city’s “rural future.”
“Where else in the world can one find a one-hundred-and-forty-square-mile agricultural community with four major league sports teams, two good universities, the fifth largest art museum in the country, a world-class hospital, and headquarters of a now-global industry, that while faltering, stands ready to green their products and keep three million people in the rest of the country employed?”