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Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City (Painted Turtle) Paperback – September 9, 2010
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Suggests ways for Detroit to become a smaller but better city in the twenty first century and proposes productive uses for the city's vacant spaces.
About the Author
John Gallagher is a veteran journalist who writes about urban and economic development for the Detroit Free Press. He joined the newspaper in 1987. John's other books include Great Architecture of Michigan and, as co-author, AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture.
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Most think that Detroit is vacant/empty because of the loss of population over the past generation. Certainly that is part of it, but Gallagher points out that the size of Detroit was immense from the beginning. With enough land to encompass all of San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan, Detroit was spread out to begin with. This has now come back to be a serious challenge for the city.
Urban farming is an often noted solution to these empty spaces and Gallagher takes a serious look at the pros and cons of the popular idea. He accurately points out that urban farming alone is not a panacea for the city and at best, would be a part of any overall solution to the problem. He estimates that currently there are approximately 500+ acres of community gardens in the area or roughly one square mile of urban farms. Detroit has over 40 square miles of vacant land which makes you understand the challenge of what to do with all that space.
In order to make urban farming an economic possibility there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we think about locally grown foods. Gallagher points out that only about 2% of Detroit's food could be considered locally grown. If that were boosted to 5-10% then the economics starts to become possible.
One missing conversation in the book is the possibility of medical marijuana farms. Michigan approved med marijuana in 2008 but large scale growth and distribution has yet to be implemented. Marijuana being a high value to acreage product might change some of the economics.
In other areas, Gallagher notes that Detroit has a large number of wide, multi-lane roads. With fewer cars on them, they seem overkill for the current and projected future population of the city. He suggests a "road diet" that would re-engineer some of these boulevards and make them narrower with more pedestrian and bike friendly features. He notes that adding environmental restraints such as roundabouts, trees, bike lanes, etc, actually has the counter-intuitive effect of making for safer streets. Turns out we pay more attention when the environment is more multiuse and dense.
One of his more pragmatic ideas is to allow some parts of the city to return to a more natural state, or so-called "wildlife corridors." Natural green spaces benefit the community and unlike parks, he notes that citizens don't expect you to keep up a natural area the way you would a public park!
One of the books highlights is the chapter called "The Best Idea Detroit's Never Tried" which discusses the success that the Flint Land Bank has had in acquiring and amalgamating vacant and blighted land in that city. The program has become a national model for land banking in part because of their innovative approach of bundling and selling off land to developers and then in turn using those proceeds to fix up blighted properties, essentially making them more valuable for future sale. Sadly Gallagher points out that for seemingly political reasons, the Detroit City Council has prevented this idea from being implemented in the city where it could have an immediate and perhaps profound impact on the area.
For those interested in cities, particularly in how to turn them around and re-imagine them, there is no better lab than Detroit and Gallagher captures the complexities and challenges of changing the course of a mammoth entity like the City of Detroit. And he does so in a refreshingly readable manner.
Also, here is an excellent interview with the author: [...]