Shades of Green: Depopulation and Nature in Northwest Detroit

Authors: Sharon Cornelissen*, Princeton University
Topics: Urban Geography, Qualitative Research, Environmental Perception
Keywords: Detroit, Nature, Landscapes, Depopulation, Urban Decline
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In this paper, I show how residents of Brightmoor, Detroit, related differently to nature in their neighborhood. Brightmoor was a depopulated, predominantly black and poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Detroit. In the last decade, a group of white urban farmers had moved into this neighborhood, attracted to its dirt-cheap real estate and what they saw as its rural feel. Nature grew lushly in Brightmoor’s abandoned spaces. Wildlife thrived. Some areas resembled rolling rural fields over any urban place. I show how urban farmers supported wildflower fields and housing demolitions without rebuilding. They envisioned this de-urbanized place as rural-like, with “country-like” nature. Most residents, however, hoped that Brightmoor would regain density again. Many still remembered the time before most of Brightmoor's schools had closed, and when fields were gaps in the built environment rather than expanses of green that surrounded homes. I analyze long-timers' relationships to nature in their neighborhood by showing how people related to tall grass, overgrown trees, and wildlife. From dangerous grass to "deer jerky," residents used humor and sometimes organized against nature, to assert a sense of control over their neighborhood. Overall, in this paper I show how the ways residents managed nature in Brightmoor revealed how they imagined themselves, the neighborhood, and its future.

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