GM’s Bust Turns Detroit Into Urban Prairie of Vacant-Lot Farms

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler LLC are fighting for their lives. Large stretches of Detroit are already dead.

With enough abandoned lots to fill the city of San Francisco, Motown is 138 square miles divided between expanses of decay and emptiness and tracts of still-functioning communities and commercial areas. 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.

A land bank the city created in July would coordinate the project if approved by Washington. These clearinghouses for vacant lots make it easier and cheaper for developers to invest in urban areas. Parcels in a similar program in Cleveland sold for as little as $1 as long as buyers agreed to maintain the property and pay taxes.

“We’re looking at pretty innovative ideas,” said George Jackson, Detroit Economic Growth’s chief executive.

One is urban farming. In many parts of Detroit, land that once held houses now grows cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and collard greens.

The city has more than 500 gardens and “we plan to triple that every year,” said Michael Travis, deputy director of Urban Farming, a Detroit-based nonprofit corporation that helps clear land and provides topsoil and fertilizer.

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