Rats or lead poisoning. When it comes to the threats from the broken down house next door, Dorothy Bates isn’t sure which is worse.
“When it’s lightening and thundering you can hear the bricks just falling,” the 40-year-old nurse said as she looked at the smashed windows and garbage-strewn porch. “If you call and ask (the city) about it they say they don’t have the funds to tear it down.”
There are more than 12,000 abandoned homes in the Detroit area, a byproduct of decades of layoffs at the city’s auto plants and white flight to the suburbs. And despite scores of attempts by government and civic leaders to set the city straight, the automobile capitol of the world seems trapped in a vicious cycle of urban decay.
Detroit has lost more than half its population since its heyday in the 1950’s. The people who remain are mostly black—83 percent—and mostly working class, with 30 percent of the population living below the poverty line according to the US Census Bureau.
The schools are bad. The roads are full of potholes. Crime is high and so are taxes. The city is in a budget crisis so deep it could end up being run by the state.
The fleeing businesses and homeowners left behind about 36 square miles (58 square kilometers) of vacant land. That’s roughly the size of San Francisco and about a quarter of Detroit’s total land mass.
And Detroit is still losing about 10,000 people every year.
One solution Vogel has proposed is to turn swaths of the city into farmland. In the four years since his students initiated a pilot project dozens of community gardens and small farms have popped up.