On Detroit’s Urban Prairie: From Built Space to Open Space

On Detroit’s Urban Prairie: From Built Space to Open Space

By Leah Etling, Contributing Editor

Drive out of Detroit’s Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods, away from the historic skyscrapers and abandoned ruins of once-grand buildings, and you are quickly amidst a whole different kind of surreal scene. Once densely packed with people, Detroit’s outlying single family home neighborhoods have suffered immensely from the city’s ongoing depopulation.

Across the city’s 149 square miles, nearly every neighborhood had 15 percent of its homes abandoned or foreclosed. There are still an estimated 80,000 structures left standing. This summer, the federal government pushed Detroit to spend $850 million to tear down 40,000 of them in the long slogging war against blight.

Adam Hollier, Detroit native, Cornell graduate, and former City Council liaison for the Detroit Mayor’s office, sees the city’s sparsely peopled suburbs as an opportunity for change, and a new way of looking at urban life—one with plenty of open space.

Hollier’s new job isn’t in politics or real estate, but on Detroit’s vast urban prairie. Working for Hantz Farms, he leads a small team that planted 15,000 trees this summer in one of Detroit’s declining western neighborhoods. Hantz Farms purchased 1,700 parcels, totaling 150 acres, from the city to create their “Woodlands,” where the grass and trash that covers houseless lots has been cleared. John Hantz, CEO and owner of Hantz Farms, lives in Indian Village, a historic neighborhood just a few streets away.

“What we’re doing clears the way so that other people can invest in the neighborhood. The goal is that that will bring other investment in housing or commercial real estate. It’s very similar to what Dan Gilbert is doing downtown, in that you know you’re throwing good money after good money,” Hollier explained.

The results of the clearing are impressive. From a lot that hasn’t yet been worked over, overgrown bushes spilled onto what would have once been a neighborhood street. Trash is everywhere—old tires, pieces of burnt wood, broken glass bottles. Five houses might now sit on a street where there were once 25, shoehorned into tiny 30’’ by 60’’ lots. It’s on the blocks where the debris has been cleared that the urban prairie really looks like a prairie.

“Now you can see four, five, six blocks in any direction,” Hollier pointed out “And if you don’t talk for two seconds it sounds like you’re in the country. Which is a really weird thing when you’re four miles from downtown.” Over the next two summers, the Hantz team plans to plant an additional 30,000 trees. Some parcels may be used for farming—two ventures, growing mushrooms and hops—are in the planning stages.

Tags: Adam Hollier, depopulation, detroit, Hantz Farms, RecoveryParks, urban planning, urban prairies Full Article 

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