Detroit How does your Garden Grow? The Potential and Challenges of Scaling-Up Urban Agriculture in the Motor City

Authors: Alec Foster*, University of Michigan
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Urban Geography, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Urban Agriculture, Detroit, Environmental Justice, Land Use
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Napoleon D2, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Long a presence in the global South, an urban agricultural (UA) renaissance is now well-underway in cities throughout the global North. Perhaps no Northern city has received more attention regarding UA than Detroit. However, there has been little research that actually documents the composition, spatial extent, and motivations for UA in Detroit. This paper fills these lacunae through a mixed methods analysis. Focusing on Detroit’s Lower East Side, a time-series analysis of Google Earth imagery from 2010 and 2016, ground truthed through physical site audits, reveals rapid growth in the number of UA sites, although they remain a small portion of the available open land in the neighborhood. Qualitative interviews revealed the motivations that led lower eastside residents to participate in UA. Most frequently mentioned were community building and aesthetic benefits, with other common motivations being a connection with nature, economic and food access benefits, and a history of gardening or farming. Spatial multicriteria evaluation analyzed centralized and dispersed paths for scaling up UA in Detroit. Results found that the dispersed option for scaling-up UA in Detroit is viable, and we argue that it should be pursued due to its potential to increase equity. Finally, we synthesize the challenges associated with scaling up UA. Challenges are both technological and social, highlighting the importance of understanding urban areas as complex social-ecological systems. These challenges lead to our proposal of a food, energy, water nexus research approach that is integrative and holistic.

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