Thursday, November 12, 2009

Up-Cycle Detroit

By Bob Ferris

I am becoming more and more intrigued by the opportunities offered by this current economy to re-sculpt America from our toenails to our hairline in a manner that works for the greatest good. And by this I mean to really think about what we are doing this time around rather than being pushed in shortsighted directions by forceful yet unsustainable players on the economic landscape. In this process I have great faith that those who are most impacted by the current economic storm will be forced to find a set of solutions that will illuminate a path that will lead us all out of this wilderness. In other words, let’s look for hope in the sea of deepest turmoil. Let’s look to Detroit.

Detroit is certainly in crisis. With a quarter of its population out of work, one in five Motor City houses foreclosed or facing foreclosure, and City coffers gasping for relief, things are really tough, but there is the hint of a quiet Phoenix being born—a sort of anti-growth, right-sizing movement which I think is promising. One of the actions being taken is in the form of the Neighborhood Stabilization Plan which is currently under review and comment. The plan is basically a $47 million punt which looks to focus efforts where synergy can be created with existing or planned efforts. All that makes sense, but what I really like about the plan is that it looks to create a linked system of open space and community gardens from a combination of public, vacant, and abandoned properties and is looking to the public to help maintain and manage the transition and the system.

I am sure there are many who view the fact of this as the ultimate tragedy. For me, I see the potential birth of urban communities made vibrant by localized food and financial systems as well as other elements of what is being termed as the new economy such as time and care banks, local currencies, community caning enterprises, fabrication laboratories and on and on. All good stuff and exciting stuff.

I am sure that it is not lost on some that the collapse of Detroit is symbolic of a more fundamental failure of our entire “growth over everything” style of economics. And given our plight with climate change, the fall of a city so inextricably tied to fossil-fuels seems right in some manner, but I would argue that should also make it the target of a kind of restoration renaissance as well. Perhaps this burg should become the site of a new organic farming or permaculture institute. Or the Transition Town movement could take it on as huge class project. My point here is that Detroit might just be the large-scale experimental venue for us to try out our ideas. Let’s up-cycle Detroit. Could be fun.

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