Sunday, January 11, 2009

Land to spare

Everyone knows Detroit is underpopulated, but the image above sure drives the point home. Detroit's population is rapidly falling below 900,000, but the city has enough land to house three times that many people. Low density has led to widespread abandonment of property to the point where one-third of all city land -- equaling the size of San Francisco -- may now be vacant.

Unfortunately, the vacant land isn't contiguous, so it's not easy to redevelop, and no one has a clear idea what to do with it. When the Free Press asked the mayoral candidates for ideas, none responded. Readers suggested large-scale reforestation or urban farming, as Grace Lee Boggs and others have advocated.. Sustainability experts have recommended focusing on developing seven densely populated urban villages -- Southwest Detroit, Corktown, Downtown, Eastern Market, Woodbridge, Midtown and New Center (see the Power Point). None of these schemes are particularly easy to implement given the actual distribution of vacant lots scattered throughout all the city's neighborhoods, but clearly the city needs a better vision and a real plan to deal with excess property.

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