The Travails of Detroit

Travails of Detroit
This Financial Times article shows how dramatically the economic crisis is shaking the foundations of established thought. The article uses examples from Detroit to talk about the depths of the economic crisis and ends by suggesting the hope for the future lies in urban agriculture! What makes it more striking is the fact that the article clearly points out how conventional economic growth and redevelopment strategies have failed. The Financial Times is an international business newspaper based in Britain.

Excerpt of Travails of Detroit:

As Ford has cut tens of thousands of jobs, Dearborn – where Howes and I met – has racked up one of America’s highest foreclosure rates. Wary of becoming a slum, the city has bought up some of these homes and demolished them, and now plans to develop houses on larger lots. The foresight of the mayor, John B. O’Reilly, is commendable, even if the net effect is that Dearborn is due to become less urban. The same thing is happening in the inner city, where houses are vanishing after being abandoned, then stripped of appliances and other fittings, then squatted, then burned to the ground by people making fires to keep warm.

In February, desperate for good-news stories, I called Patrick Crouch, who heads the Earthworks Urban Farm garden programme, an inner-city project attached to the Capuchin order’s soup kitchen. Crouch sighed loudly into the phone. “Are you going to write another of those stories?” he asked. The project he heads is a popular stop on the route of journalists keen to note the irony of a city with so much unused land that it can afford to grow vegetables downtown. After a long and pointed discussion about the urban geography of the Midwest – there is a lot of space in its cities, even those less troubled than Detroit – he grudgingly agreed to meet me.

The garden, in addition to supplying the soup kitchen, serves as a gathering point and source of information on good nutrition in a community where many subsist on high-calorie, unwholesome foods. Some local families are supplementing their small incomes by growing vegetables and selling them on. Crouch says that talking to clients of the soup kitchen also keeps him abreast of another form of barter now flourishing: trade in scrap metal. The men lining up for food can tell you, for example, how the price of copper is doing.

An environmentalist and avowed sceptic about world trade, Crouch had the same surprisingly sunny view of the world as some others in Detroit. “Assuming there is a post-petroleum economy, I see Michigan as poised to be in a good place,” he said. With the Great Lakes nearby, the area “doesn’t have to worry about depleted aquifers”.

In an earlier time, I might have lost patience with these eco-centric, anti-globalisation arguments. This winter, in Detroit, they sounded right. At a time when jobs and whole industries are collapsing, growing your own food seems reasonable. I promised to come back to see the garden’s programme for local children, now getting back in swing as the snow begins to clear. I haven’t yet made it back. Maybe in the spring.

Read the full article at FT.com.

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