The Big Empty: A Great Place to Start

reimaginingterra incognita

Much has been written about America’s declining industrial cities, and Detroit never fails to come up early in that discussion. Once a city of two million, after recent de-industrialization and middle class flight, Detroit’s population has fallen to approximately 700,000. It’s estimated that perhaps forty square miles of the city are vacant — a level of emptiness that creates a landscape unlike any other big city.

Urban blight, or a rare opportunity? That’s the question raised in John Gallagher’s recent book Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City. Gallagher gives us an inspiring look at innovative community-building projects filling the gaps in Detroit — including urban farming. He also shows how this fresh entrepreneurial spirit has made Detroit leaner, greener, and more self-sufficient.

Also pictured above: Terra Incognita: Vacant Land and Urban Strategies by Ann Bowman and Michael Pagano — a book that shows how vacant land can be used as a valuable strategic asset for cities and towns. And here’s two excellent companion books that will help you reimagine any city you might find yourself in:

small grittyrich

Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World by Catherine Tumber, and Urban Farms by Sarah C. Rich — one of the Land Library’s favorite new arrivals — a book that examines sixteen well-established urban agriculture projects across the country — including two in Detroit!

The sense of autonomy that comes from growing food and raising animals is a welcome experience at a time when the forces of the world often feel beyond individual control. Whether motivated by health concerns, environmental issues, financial constraints, or simply the creative challenge of a DIY endeavor, farming in the city is an affordable, accessible way to contribute to a healthy urban future — and to eat well along the way.” Sarah C. Rich, Urban Farms

Director Mark MacInnis has created a wonderful documentary on Detroit’s food revolution, Urban Roots. Here’s a sneak peek:

The Land Library is more devoted than ever to establishing an Urban Homestead Library for the people of Denver. We’re charged up and ready to go — and thankful for the inspiration of existing urban farms and related community projects across the country. Help us make this happen for Denver!

urban roots poster

In many ways, the urban farmers in Detroit are like most of us in that we are all experiencing the painful transition from the industrial, centralized world to a post-industrial world in which jobs are changing, the economy is changing, the neighborhoods are changing and it seems like we have no control over the outcome.
Well, enter urban farming, a way in which individuals can take control over something so critical as food that in the very act of growing it, they not only feed themselves, they also become healthier, more self-reliant and in some cases they become entrepreneurs. And most remarkable, they create a new approach to community, the economy and life overall.
” — Leila Connors, producer of Urban Roots


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