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On this page you'll find all of our stories on the city of Detroit.Suggest a story here and follow our podcast here.

Detroit sees vacant land as opportunity, not failure

EarthWorks is one of several community gardens making use of vacant land in Detroit
flickr user Jessica Reeder

Still less than a year out of its historic bankruptcy, Detroit’s successes and failures continue to make headlines.

The city may have shed most of its debt, but it continues to lose population – down more than 60% of its 1950 population of 1.8 million.

Take that shrinking population and couple it with Mayor Mike Duggan’s ongoing push to tear down blighted buildings, and you get a lot of empty land.

Bill McGraw’s latest story for Bridge Magazine looks at Mayor Duggan’s blueprint for redesigning Detroit.

McGraw tells us that the city’s rise in vacant land is directly linked to its drastically shrinking population.

“Even in the last census period from 2000 to 2010 the city lost a quarter of its population,” he says, adding that we won’t really know how things have changed in the last five years until the next census is completed.

According to McGraw, 23 of Detroit’s 140 square miles are now vacant land.

The vacant land is scattered throughout the city, but when combined, that’s as much as the land surface area of Manhattan, “and there’s more all the time.”

“One of the things Mayor Duggan is doing is he’s tearing down houses at a faster rate than any previous mayor,” McGraw tells us.

City planners and mayors have historically seen vacant land as a bad sign, but Detroit’s looking at it differently.

Under the city’s new planning director Maurice Cox, “They have decided that vacant land can be productive, and it can be used in a number of different ways,” McGraw says.

Those include using vacant land for parks and other recreation spaces, as well as developing “so-called blue and green infrastructure,” according to McGraw.

As an example of the latter, he tells us that it’s much cheaper to turn the vacant land into receptacles for storm water, rather than deal with the effects of letting it run into the sewer system and causing it to overflow into the Detroit River.

He adds that simply taking the vacant land and making it look nice and rural can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for residents.

Further, McGraw tells us there’s an increasing movement by both the city and its citizens to convert vacant lots into productive agricultural zones.

It all boils down to the city’s acceptance of the fact that with its smaller population, it can’t afford to put more buildings on that land.

Instead of seeing so much vacant land as a symbol of failure, they’re moving forward and finding constructive and productive ways to make use of it.

Bill McGraw’s story, Redesigning Detroit: Mayor Mike Duggan’s blueprint unveiled can be found at bridgemi.com and also at MLive.com.

– Ryan Grimes, Stateside


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