Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Earth Day and Hantz Farm
Week 55 of the occupation
April 22, 2014
As Judge Rhodes interviewed experts to comment on the feasibility of Kevyn Orr’s latest plan to redevelop Detroit, people around the world celebrated Earth Day. The United Nations declared it International Mother Earth Day in 2009. With the growing awareness that all human life is in peril because of the accelerating degradation of our planet, this year the Earth Day Network launched a Green Cities Campaign to focus actions and policies to transform our cities into sustainable communities.
Central to this campaign are global volunteer actions. The organizers say, “Nothing is more powerful than the collective action of a billion people.”
On the eve of this Earth Day, I was stunned by the report that John Hantz is planning on organizing 500 volunteers to plant trees on some of the land he purchased from the city for bargain prices. This is an assault on the ideas of volunteerism and on the essential activity of tree planting. It mocks the spirit of Earth Day, but captures the ideas of development loose in Detroit
Wangari Maathai focused the idea of tree planting as a life affirming political act. Her work in reforesting Kenya won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. The Green Belt Movement that she birthed in the 1970s brought forward powerful new forces for ecological action. She helped frame basic ideas of sustainable, just living. She believed democracy, sustainable life, and peaceful communities were bound together.
She wrote that “no society can thrive” nor “can its citizen develop their skills and creativity” without the interconnection of each of these elements. She warns that without understanding this “it is impossible to keep any state alive” and “No development can take place in such a state either. Instead, conflict ensues.”
Those of us who care about the future need to think about Maathai’s insights.
Her death in 2011 was loss for all those who believe another world is possible.
John Hantz has managed to defile both tree planting and the spirit of volunteers. He plans to organize volunteers to plant 15,000 trees. It seems the people are going to walk behind a GPS digging machine that will bore holes in the earth. They will place three to five foot saplings in them. Mike Score, president of Hantz Farms thinks the whole project could be done in about an hour with the volunteer gang and then everyone could celebrate with a cook out.
Hantz Farms came about as the result of a contentious city council vote. In a narrow 5-4 split in January of 2013 the council approved the sale of nearly 2000 parcels for $520,000. This was about one third of the market value. In defense of the low price, Hantz pledged to clean up vacant areas, demolish at least 50 buildings, and plant trees.
Opposition to this deal was fierce, raising concerns about the process, favoritism, and poorly thought out agricultural ideas. Most people saw it as a naked land grab. Nearly 1000 residents spoke out against the deal at a public hearing in January of 2013.
In the course of pressuring the council for the land, Hantz, a financial manager, portrayed himself as a visionary developer. He cloaked his scheme in the respect urban farmers had developed over the years. In so doing he confused and debased the idea of urban agriculture.
Now he is confusing and debasing the idea of volunteerism and tree planting. The very least he could do is pay 500 neighborhood youth to join in the planting. Even at $15 an hour, it would be a small investment for the tax breaks he gets.
I hope no one is foolish enough to volunteer to plant trees on May 17 for John Hantz. It represents everything that is wrong with those who think rebuilding our city can be done from the top down, cheaply.