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Why isn't more vacant land in Detroit used for gardening?

A garden near Detroit's downtown. (file photo)
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A garden near Detroit's downtown. (file photo)

There’s been so much news coverage about urban gardening in Detroit, that people have a distorted view of how much land is being used for gardens.

Leafing through a new University of Michigan study, you’ll find in Detroit’s Lower Eastside, only one percent of the vacant land is made up of private and community gardens. One reason there are not more gardens is uncertainty about whether the land can be used.

“It’s hard to justify putting in a lot of infrastructure if you don’t know if you’re going to have that lot to use five years down the road,” said the lead author of the study, Joshua Newell, an urban geographer at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

The researcher say government should take a greater role in clearing up land ownership issues.

The research finds there are more benefits for more residents when gardens are scattered throughout an area.

“Rather than a large, centralized sort of garden that would take up multiple city blocks. And if we want to really provide benefits to people, we need to locate these throughout the neighborhood,” Newell explained.

And the study has identified those vacant lots where growing crops would be especially beneficial.

Interviews with residents revealed the production of food was a small part of why gardens were planted. They said gardening helps build community and reduces blight.

The researchers say a similar study across of all of Detroit could provide a more comprehensive picture and help make a citywide plan possible.

The other study authors are Sara Meerow of Arizona State University, Alec Foster of Illinois State University and Mariel Borgman of Michigan State University.

The study was published online in the journal Cities.

A summary can be found here.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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