An urban forest sounds nice, but some residents wonder who will really benefit.
After nearly five years of planning, a large-scale attempt to turn a big chunk of Detroit into an urban forest is now underway. The purchase of more than 1,500 vacant city-owned lots on the city’s lower east side – a total of more than 140 acres – got final approval from Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder last week.
The buyer is Hantz Farms, and it’s a venture of financier John Hantz, who lives in the nearby Indian Village neighborhood. Indian Village is an affluent enclave of manor-scale historic homes, but much of the surrounding area is blighted. Hantz Farms will pay more than $500,000 for the land, which consists of non-contiguous parcels in an area where occupied homes are increasingly surrounding by abandoned properties.
The company has committed to clearing 50 derelict structures, cleaning up the garbage dumped across the neighborhood, planting 15,000 trees, and mowing regularly. Planting of the hardwoods will begin in earnest next fall, and the urban forest will be called Hantz Woodlands.
The huge deal drew criticism last year, when the city council – which was then still in control of Detroit – voted 5-4 to approve the sale. A coalition of grassroots urban farmers and community activists opposed it, charging that it was a play to increase land values by buying a huge swath of acreage and taking it off the market. “I think it opens the gateway for other rich folks to come here to buy up land and essentially make themselves rich compounds,” urban gardener Kate Devlin told The Huffington Post at the time.