Last November, the city of Detroit introduced a Neighborhood Stabilization Plan, a $47m plan to accelerate renewal of the housing market in areas most severely impacted by foreclosure and abandonment.
A key element of the plan is alternative use of land - and as Bloomberg reports, Detroit is already one step ahead as:
close to six barren acres of
an estimated 17,000 have already been turned into 500 ``mini-
farms,'' demonstrating the lengths to which planners will go to
make land productive.
One 'farm' is Birdtown Community Garden, where private land and vacant city lots were turned in to a place for growing food:
Over here in the U.K., foreclosure is growing but not on the same scale as in the United States and the national social security system is a key safety net.
But recession is putting pressure on housing market renewal, private sector finance of renewal and the boss of the national urban renewal organization has now acknowledged that we need to find new ways of financing urban renewal.
In other words, if we don't innovate fast, the country is to be scarred with more and more of this:
And more and more of this:
Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that he would bring forward £10billion of spending planned for public works such as school and hospital repairs, environmental projects and IT schemes to provide employment.
In November, Chancellor Alistair Darling announced a 45% tax rate on earnings over £150,000 from 2011.
What are those "environmental projects"?
What's to be the return on public investment for those in the new higher tax bracket?
Increased use of land for food production - a local boost to local foodie culture - seems a practical, political no-brainer.
I mean how irresistable is this image of a food growing site in an Italian city?
As opposed to this....
....a manicured stretch of barren English housing estate.
But there's an additional thought.
For the last year, I have been running a programme of advice to house-builders and providers of social housing on how to meet U.K. Government targets on climate change.
At an event last week, Brian Mark of Fulcrum Consulting made it clear that a key route to delivering viable carbon-efficient housing is to super-size development and introduce community energy systems.
And Peter Walker of EcoCentroGen decribed releasing capital to support the additional cost of low carbon and renewable infrastructure by applying a rent to the present and future provision of energy to development sites.
What if a significant proportion of the land on which a development is to sit were given over to food production and you could project a yield of fruit and veg that promised residents a considerable saving on their weekly food budget?
What if against that saving - as well as utilisation of the site's waste - you charged rent for use of the land - but not two groats and a shilling - but say £600.00/year/plot?
What if you bundled this with other services that could be 'rentalised', such as broadband provision?
Now this is no recipe for turning England in to Chianti - and any way why should we? - but this does start to become a route to seeing urban agriculture as less of a shampoo-free, urban eco-hugger zone, and more about bundled services that extract new value from land.
Do this on a city-wide scale - especially in places where there is a surplus of land laying derelict and with next to nil value - and doesn't it start to turn urban farming in to something way more than touchy feeley bananas?