Kitty-corner from my church, St. Peter’s Episcopal, stand the remains of Detroit’s old Tiger Stadium. A new ballpark named after a bank—part of the run at the casino economy—is located in the new sports and entertainment district closer to downtown.
An attempt is ongoing to raise funds sufficient to save the historic field and clubhouse for a museum and playing field. Given the times, I wouldn’t bet on it. But I notice that the wound of demolition and removal of fully three-quarters of the old place is fresh enough that it still feels, every time I look, like a huge, gaping hole has opened up in the world.
That’s Detroit. Things coming down and spaces opening up. But open spaces mean possibility.
Thirty percent of Detroit is vacant land, nearly 40 square miles within the city limits. Google Earth that! Last year three farms and more than 200 school and community gardens bloomed in open spaces, plus nearly 400 family plots—and those are just the ones formally connected to Detroit’s Garden Resource Program Collaborative. Some of these are public school-based, such as Catherine Ferguson Academy, where pregnant teens and young mothers, in the shadow of a barn they themselves raised, each have an organic plot ringing the former football field (where horses now graze). Some are like the simple line of raised beds we constructed behind our church parking lot, a cooperative venture between congregants, neighbors, and soup kitchen participants.
Some agricultural projects aren’t properly gardens at all: Picture an east side community planting 170 fruit trees throughout their neighborhood. And some gardens spring up on vacant land, probably city-owned, but who knows? It feels like no one’s been in charge for a couple years, so people just seize the opportunity. But imagine if there actually were a programmatic city policy, with protected zoning for urban agriculture, or ways to legally get water from hydrants to vacant lots.