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Breakfast links: Put your hands up for Detroit

Photo by jbcurio.
Seed money: Can farming save Detroit? A man who lives in the Motor City thinks so, and he's planning to invest $30 million in a for-profit venture to bring large-scale food production within city limits. (Fortune)

Honey, I shrunk the city: Germany's Shrinking Cities Project has produced an infographic video showing the population sprawl and urban form changes that accompany shrinking and sprawling cities. The first and most dramatic city shown in the video is Detroit. (Vimeo via City Parks Blog)

Something to be MADD about?: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, despite seeming to agree that alternatives to driving can reduce the potential for drunk driving, does not take an official position endorsing complete streets, transit, or active transportation. Does the fact that five of the organization's six platinum sponsors are auto-related have anything to do with this? (

Spic-and-span: WMATA's $7.5 million revolving station enhancement program, which began in 1991, aims to keep Metro stations looking clean by repairing or replacing signs, tiles, railings, lights and kiosks. The latest round of improvements are scheduled to be completed in June. (Post, Cavan)

The year in development: A review of the region's real estate development projects in 2009. (DCmud)

Running away from consequences: The pedestrian killed Monday by a hit-and-run driver at 16th Street and Park Road has been identified as Angel Marie Bridges. Among the family and friends she leaves behind is a 14 year-old daughter. Although the car involved in her death has been recovered, the driver remains at large. In response, Council member Graham has repeated calls for DDOT to make changes to the intersection. (WJLA, Columbia Heights listserv)

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Stephen Miller lived in the District from 2008 to 2011 and is now a student at Pratt Institute's city and regional planning masters program. 


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MADD is an interesting creature. What they did in the 1970s was great. We did need more enforcement of drunk driving laws.

What we have now, 30 years later, is a travesty. DDLs are a major revenue source for every local courthouse. They outnumber ever other misdemeanor by a factor of 10. They keep local lawyers well employed. I don't think they reduce fatality rates much. Insurance companies love them because they get to jack the rates on huge chunks of the population. And MADD itself is a neo-prohibisition anti-alcohol organization, rather than one trying to reduce deaths on the road.

So, no, I'm not surprised they don't support transit

by charlie on Dec 31, 2009 9:18 am • linkreport

MADD turned from a good idea into neo-prohibitionist anti-alcohol organization. They have no credibility now. In regards cars, any accident in which one party has had a drink is assumed to be due to alcohol, and that party is blamed, even if not at fault. The result is that the dangers of driving per se is now re-cast as the dangers of wonder the auto industry is behind MADD.

by SJE on Dec 31, 2009 9:36 am • linkreport

Why not half the station "makeover" program, and use that $4 million to avoid service cuts for this year? Many of the stations mentioned don't seem to need an upgrade (West Falls & Ballston specifically as I use those often). Certainly they can save on things like power washing, and repainting surfaces for cosmetic reasons only.

by Joshua Davis on Dec 31, 2009 9:50 am • linkreport

The cosmetic upkeep maintains ridership. A beautiful system is a system that is attractive to riders. Remember that most suburbanites still won't ride public transit unless it's safe and clean. That has not changed since the 1960's when the system was designed.

Even in New York's system, you'll see a correlation between ridership and when they started to clean it up (as much as they can, it will always a system that is function over form) in the mid to late 1990s.

If you let the Metro go to hell, it will get a reputation as being dangerous, regardless of whether or not it's true, just like the New York Subway from about 1960-1998 or so.

by Cavan on Dec 31, 2009 9:57 am • linkreport


I can tell you that both Ballston and West Falls are nowhere near going to hell, they can certainly delay maintenance until the recession (1-2 years) is over and juridistions are more willing to fund Metro.

by Joshua Davis on Dec 31, 2009 10:01 am • linkreport


Also, cutting service is more likely to push someone to driving, than having a station with an old paint job is.

by Joshua Davis on Dec 31, 2009 10:02 am • linkreport

I like the concept of farming in Detriot. It will use the empty land for productive economic use rather than as a tax drain. The city could also abandon the roads that go through the farms, reducing their infrastructure maintainence bill.

The farms will also stop the bleeding in the still-functioning parts of the city. Any functioning section that is bordered by an abondoned place is going to always face pressure for abandonment as no one likes living next to ruins. People do like living next to farms.

This is also real important because it will provide a buffer between the functioning urban parts and the vast, vast, sprawling car-dependent suburbs. It will make living in the suburbs less attractive when compared to the city with respect to the jobs that are downtown. Fewer roads connecting suburbs to downtown will make getting downtown feel less convenient.

by Cavan on Dec 31, 2009 10:03 am • linkreport

Maintenance cleaning and repair is a necessary part of operations. You see it across the board from small to large institutions and infrastructure; deferred maintenance is one of the worst cancers to an institution's bottom line.

by Lou on Dec 31, 2009 10:12 am • linkreport

The blind man that was hit by the Metro train died of his injuries last night.

by Fritz on Dec 31, 2009 10:13 am • linkreport

"In regards cars, any accident in which one party has had a drink is assumed to be due to alcohol, and that party is blamed, even if not at fault."

The other caveat to this fact is that statistics used by the auto industry and MADD related to drunk-driving deaths are dramatically overstated.

Any accident in which any single person involved is intoxicated is classified as "alcohol related." If a drunk pedestrian steps in front if a car, it's alcohol related. If anyone at all in the car is found to have consumed alcohol, it's alcohol related.

There is a lot of good info about MADD that anyone interested can find with google. They are among the most hypocritical and corrupt charities out there. 81% of money donated to MADD is spent on fundraising and administration. Less than 19% is used for their actual mission. This makes them among the worst charities as far as administrative costs.

As far as their actual mission goes, as others noted, it seems to be mostly about making insurance companies richer these days.

by Jamie on Dec 31, 2009 10:28 am • linkreport

Was this $4Mil to clean Metro part of the Recover Act money? If it is, I don't think they can convert it to cover operating expenses.

by RJ on Dec 31, 2009 11:11 am • linkreport

Jamie: I completely agree with your comments about MADD.

What is often overlooked is that, by focusing on alcohol, MADD permits the auto industry and drivers in general from focusing on other important causes of accidents, such as driver behavior, car design, etc.

If kill a cyclist, you can plead "I didnt see him" and get off with a fine. Happens in lots of states. If you had been drinking, it is immediately a more serious charge, and fault on the part of the motorist is assumed.

What this means is that prosecution focuses on drinking, or evidence that the person was on the phone or texting, or very clearly negligent (like being 30+ over the limit, racing, etc). i.e. it tries to find a specific box, rather than looking at driver behavior generally. Thus, driving with a fogged windshield and looking for your lighter is merely negligent, and a $313 fine, even if you killed a man in broad daylight, with the sun behind you.

by SJE on Dec 31, 2009 12:09 pm • linkreport

@ SJE & Jamie, re: the fatality and crash data. I have personal knowledge of the data collected by States,DC & PR. What's reported, 1)if there was any fatality (driver, passenger, ped, biker) and 2) if the driver of the vehicle/s or dead non-occupants tested + for alcohol. I have found these data not to be overstated but instead there is a lot of missing data. That is, not every crash that results in a fatality (of a driver, passenger, ped, etc) has data on alcohol because of factors like too much time passed between time of crash and when test of driver could be made, and other factors. It's the FARS data I'm referring to.
In addition, the data I've seen don't assign accountability/blame. It's an observation on the proportion of fatal crashes in which E-OH was present. The greatest interest is in crashes in which a driver was E-OH +. What data collection system are you referring to? It sounds like you're responding to, and unhappy with, interpretations of the FARS data rather then whats in the datasets.

by Bianchi on Dec 31, 2009 12:14 pm • linkreport

Let's see, most small private farms are barely profitable and nearly all small private farmers must have another job to make ends meet even in the best growing regions of the country, so clearly farming will work in Detroit! Hey, urban farms are cool...

You live long enough you see it all I guess. Encouraging people to take up farming as a way to save a city? Somewhere, a farmer who lost his farm in Iowa is laughing, or crying, or both.

by urbaner on Dec 31, 2009 12:14 pm • linkreport

@urbaner: At least the urban farmer will be able to claim all the federal tax credits and subsidies for farming!

by Fritz on Dec 31, 2009 12:19 pm • linkreport

@ Bianchi; yes, they are not measuring some stiffs for alcohol when they come in.

But they are also not measuring how many drink drive deaths are young men just killing themselves. A car, after all, is the most lethal thing we own.

Fatalities are also not the only measurement. Cars have gotten more survivable. But when you look at serious accidents (absent fatality) is alcohol still such a contributing cause?

Data is never perfect.

by charlie on Dec 31, 2009 12:24 pm • linkreport

I am referring primarily to the way that MADD and most organizations with an interest in presenting drunk-driving fatality statistics in the worst possible light use the data, not the data itself.

1) When they say x number of people are killed by drunk drivers annually, they include all the drivers who were themselves the victim. This includes a lot of accidents that involve only a single vehicle, of course. While this is important to know, MADD makes it sound like every person who NTSA says died in an alcohol-related traffic accident was a victim of a drunk driver. In fact the driver themselves is the victim almost half of the time.

2) They also include legally intoxicated cyclists or peds who are killed which is about 10% of the total.

3) For the remainder, about 30% or so of the deaths, fault is not assigned by the data, so this number includes accidents where the person who had alcohol in their system was not actually at fault in the accident.

The result is that in actuality, if you want to say how many people are victims of drunk drivers each year, you're talking about at maximum half of the number that gets tossed around, and at minimum, as little as 20% (if half of the cases were not the drunk person's fault). The reality is probably somewhere around 1/3 of what they say.

It's not a data problem - it's a misrepresentation of what the data says.

This link analyzes one year of data.

by Jamie on Dec 31, 2009 12:33 pm • linkreport

I'd much rather have things arranged in which drinking was a noncontroversial, commonplace, everyday sort of activity and in which driving was a slightly shameful, slightly guilt-ridden activity that was supposed to be reserved for special occasions and in any case was always to be done in moderation, than the other way around, which is the vision that MADD is pushing.

I'd agree that in the '80s, MADD did excellent work in turning drunk driving from something that one would shamelessly joke about into a truly unacceptable and shameful act, with legal consequences to match. But it's never worked on reducing driving, only reducing drinking.

I'm also curious about the emergence of drunk driving as a problem. I suspect that it's only become a problem when and where the built environment requires a car for every trip. Which is to say, the attitude that MADD changed about drunk driving was a holdover from an era when drunk driving really wasn't a problem, the '50s and earlier perhaps, but as driving became more pervasive in the '60s and '70s, the consequences of drunk driving escalated.

I'd also think that the alcohol industry should work at promoting transit and smart growth and walkable (staggerable) communities as their response to drunk driving--the current system of the designated dork, if fully implemented, must cut 25-50% of their sales.

by thm on Dec 31, 2009 12:40 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know what exactly Jim Graham is proposing to make the intersection of 16th & Park safer? (i.e. what his statement means by "pedestrian safety and signal timing improvements"?) I wonder if anyone has proposed a complete stop (i.e. all directions of vehicle traffic get red lights at the same time to allow for pedestrian crossing - is there a name for that approach?) at 16th & Park and 16th & Irving.

by DC_Chica on Dec 31, 2009 1:13 pm • linkreport

well said, thm. I don't get how we see all these anti-drinking ads and never hear about building places that don't require the use of an automobile to not be prisoner in one's house.

by Cavan on Dec 31, 2009 1:16 pm • linkreport

urbaner, while it is not unreasonable to question the wisdom of "urban farming" within functioning cities that have high land values, the situation is wholly different in Detroit. Large swaths of land that is within the political borders of Detroit has reverted to wilderness. There is literally acres and acres of unused, undeveloped land within Detroit's political borders. In other words, huge swaths of Detroit are no longer urban or even urbanized.

Yet, because the undeveloped land is within Detroit's political limits, the city must continue paying for services there such as road upkeep and law enforcement. Meanwhile, there is no econonic activity there and therefore no tax revenue to support those services.

The farming proposal is more about using the land in a productive capacity rather than it just sit there being a tax sink. The value of that land is so low and its acreage so vast that it makes economic sense to use it for agriculture. While "urban farming" in places like the East Coast cities can be framed within a social trendsetting lense (not completely correct but not incorrect either), the land in question within Detroit's polical borders is not the same. That land is not urban and has not been urban for decades. Therefore, this is old-fashioned farming. It makes a lot of sense.

by Cavan on Dec 31, 2009 1:27 pm • linkreport

@DC Chica: Pedestrians getting their own share of the signal cycle is sometimes called a "Barnes Dance".

by Michael Perkins on Dec 31, 2009 1:34 pm • linkreport


Those large swaths of "wilderness" are actually abandoned lots that once held houses, cars, factories, etc. Much of that wilderness is cement and asphalt. Toxic chemicals from cars, etc have been leaking into the ground there for years. This isn't exactly fertile soil.

Michigan has lots of farmland, it has no need for additional farms. In fact, much of the current farmland is being sold off because, and let me repeat this, farming is not profitable.

The real farmers (including some in Wayne County) who are trying to scrape by in Michigan know this. They live it everyday. Quite frankly, the idea that you can turn vacant residential and industrial lots in Detroit into profitable farms is an insult to them.

One more thing. Do you know what they grow on farms in Michigan? The major cash crop is feed corn. Not organic produce, not heirloom tomatoes, but corn that is shipped to feedlots to feed pigs and cattle or refined into corn syrup. Even if you somehow were to turn Detroit into America's new farmland, the products from those farms wouldn't end up in farmers markets or the produce section of Whole Foods, they would end up at the Andersons Terminal at the Port of Toledo.

by urbaner on Dec 31, 2009 2:19 pm • linkreport


Saying 'farming is not profitable' isn't true. Based on the kinds of agriculture you're talking about (large scale monoculture cash crops), it seems you're painting any sort of activity with an awfully broad brush.

This isn't an idea about farming, it's an idea about Detroit and what to do with the land. Because Detroit has excess land up the wazoo, it's an approach that's uniquely tailored to that city, and probably not too many others around the US.

Some of the most interesting ideas for revitalizing a depopulated city like Detroit involve trying to concentrate the remaining population in a few urban villages within the city limits and use the rest of the land as farms or parks or open space - linking those villages together with transit.

These are all big ideas, they're all quite bold, but I don't see what you can really argue against in this guy's proposal. He's willing to throw down 30 million of his own money to go after this. What's wrong with that?

by Alex B. on Dec 31, 2009 2:42 pm • linkreport

I agree with you about the strucutural economic problems of farming not being profitable. I don't have any delusions about sending produce to Whole Foods. My thinking is pragmanic. I'm not some "hipster" walking around trying to show my coolness. My advocacy has more to do with solving problems.

One upside of farming in the political limits of Detroit is that it would be closer to shipping infrastructure. I'm not saying it's an easy idea but it's not a bad one. It clearly has practical challenges but it's better than doing nothing.

by Cavan on Dec 31, 2009 2:43 pm • linkreport

The opportunity cost of investment in Detroit is smaller than my dick. Why stop at farming? This should be like a tablua rosa for venture capitalists.

by MPC on Dec 31, 2009 3:27 pm • linkreport

Way to keep it classy, MPC.

by Cavan on Dec 31, 2009 3:30 pm • linkreport

While a VC can get cheap land in Detroit what usually going to make or break the company is people and the product. Otherwise VC would just go to, say, Mexico. What happens, instead, is they go to places like Bost, NYC, LA, SF, San Diego or Washington, which are expensive but offer people and infrastructure needed for most VC.

Detroit also suffers in that too much of its economy was dominated by Govt, Health, and Autos: all of which are heavily unionized and tend to be contrary to a lot of the VC mindset. (This has also been a criticism of DC, too).
Detroit probably would have been a lot better if Chrysler had been allowed to fail in the 70s.

by SJE on Dec 31, 2009 3:43 pm • linkreport


Actually, there is zero farming infrastructure in Detroit. Unless things have changed significantly in the last year or so, there isn't a single elevator in all of Detroit (and why would there be?). So if you do get farms, you are going to have to drive your products out of the city (into farm country) to find a place to sell.

In theory all of the new Detroit farmers could come together to form a coop and build a elevator and some other things, including, perhaps a store where things like seed and feed and equipment can be purchased. But that seems like an awful lot of work, and cost, especially when, there is already a well established farming infratructure in about 3/4 of the state of Michigan.

One other thing, and I say this as a former lifelong Michigander who does want to see things get better. Michigan cities, from Saginaw, to Flint, to Lansing, and now Detroit, have a long history of getting all excited about some multi-millionaire with his money and his big radical plans. I remember 10 years ago when Magic Johnson (a Lansing native) was going to buy up all of Downtown Lansing and turn it into lofts, and restaurants, and the like. Them some other big money guy was going to turn the old BWL power plant into an aquarium! Well Magic's money and the fish never came.

Going back even further we have Auto World in Flint and Cereal City in Battle Creek Big ideas that actually got built, and then failed, and more importantly, failed to turn around their cities. How about that riverfront casino district in Detroit we were all promised?

Who knows, maybe Detroit will get farms, or urban villages (even though Detroit, and the rest Michigan for that matter, has never had anything but single family homes) connected by transit (even though Detroit can't currently manage to operate even a skeleton of a city bus system), or an aquarium, or lofts built by Magic Johnson. Maybe Tiger Stadium will be turned into a stadium for bullfighting (an actual proposal) and the state fairgrounds will become a NASCAR track. And maybe an entire generation of young people with disposable income will flock to Detroit to get back to the land and take up farming and that will somehow save a city that has been in decline for nearly half a century.

Personally, I will hold out for the Lansing Board of Water Light power plant being turned into an aquarium.

by urbaner on Dec 31, 2009 3:57 pm • linkreport

Urbaner - unfortunately, they've started to dismantle the station, so no aquarium there. Maybe they can build it in one of the shuttered GM plants around town?

by JS on Dec 31, 2009 4:59 pm • linkreport

Re: Detroit urban farming

There's no need for a grain elevator because Mr. Hantz is hoping to grow high-value crops rather than commodities.

From the article:

Crop selection will depend on the soil conditions of the plots that Hantz acquires. Experts insist that most of the land is not irretrievably toxic. The majority of the lots now vacant in Detroit were residential, not industrial; the biggest problem is how compacted the soil is. For the most part the farms will focus on high-margin edibles: peaches, berries, plums, nectarines, and exotic greens. Score says that the first crops are likely to be lettuce and heirloom tomatoes.

This is a high-tech version of what used to be called a truck farm, growing vegetables and fruit for local consumption. These kinds of operations flourished near cities until 1930-1960, until they folded under land-use pressure (taxes) and competition from California produce.

Maybe that balance is shifting, in view of the enormous energy costs of shipping produce across the country on fast refrigerator trains, and the continuing disintegration of the California water system.

On the other hand, I'd be interested to know if there's a big enough local market up in Detroit. And also, Michigan isn't know for its amenable farming weather.

by David R. on Dec 31, 2009 5:46 pm • linkreport

Some of the most interesting ideas for revitalizing a depopulated city like Detroit involve trying to concentrate the remaining population in a few urban villages within the city limits and use the rest of the land as farms or parks or open space - linking those villages together with transit. (Alex B.)

Sounds like the Southern California ideal circa 1925, only without the good weather, oil, and film industry.

I say this as someone who's very much attracted to that settlement model, however ephemeral it may have been.

by David R. on Dec 31, 2009 5:55 pm • linkreport

you're spending a lot of words knocking the idea, but your sense of "agriculture" is probably different that what pro urban agriculture peeps mean.

read this:

and this:

also, GM should get crackin at buildin streetcars.

by a on Dec 31, 2009 8:23 pm • linkreport

Braddock, Pa - a steel town in the Mon Valley outside Pittsburgh - is the site of the first Carnegie Library. It once boasted 20,000 residents, but now has become largely a ghost town. Only a couple thousand people still live there. Its innovative Mayor has backed a largely successful urban farming program.

Some of the food raised in Braddock is sold in markets, and the rest goes to food bank and senior nutrition programs in the Mon Valley, as well as in Pittsburgh.

by Mike S. on Dec 31, 2009 10:58 pm • linkreport

Braddock, Pa - a steel town in the Mon Valley outside Pittsburgh - is the site of the first Carnegie Library. It once boasted 20,000 residents, but now has become largely a ghost town. Only a couple thousand people still live there. Its innovative Mayor has backed a largely successful urban farming program.

Some of the food raised in Braddock is sold in markets, and the rest goes to food bank and senior nutrition programs in the Mon Valley, as well as in Pittsburgh.

by Mike S. on Dec 31, 2009 10:58 pm • linkreport

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