Detroit - The city of reinvention

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Courtesy of GLOBE Foundation

It's January 2012. A new year lies ahead. It's a time when many of us plan for rejuvenation with resolutions of fitness, healthy eating and lifestyle changes.

By now we may have already wavered on our personal promises, but we still see the opportunities that lie ahead and challenge ourselves to a better us with thoughts of hope and possibility in the months to come.

There is no shortage of hope and possibility in Detroit, a city that's been around since 1701 and which has many claims to fame. It's also a city that is reinventing itself in order to survive.

Detroit is home to the oldest state fair in the U.S. (the Michigan State Fair, first held in 1849), the first U.S. soda (created by pharmacist James Vernor in 1862), and the first city in the world to pave a concrete road.

But many of those now crumbling paved roads weave through literally miles of deserted neighborhoods full of abandoned buildings and houses.

Detroit, the city of the famous Motown Record Corporation founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. in 1959, will have to draw on its ingenuity and commitment in order to revitalize its communities, boost its economy performance and achieve self-sufficiency.

What's happening in Mo-Town?

Detroit made headlines last month in a report of a mother of six selling her home valued at $96k in exchange for a minivan. It turns out that the home was actually bought for $3,600.

It's a time when finances are at an all time low and the city is losing population and tax revenue faster than it can trim its budget.

CNNMoney reported this week that Detroit won't have enough money to pay its bills by April and if the state takes over, this would allow it to file for bankruptcy. If this happens, it would make it the largest U.S. city ever to undergo such a fate. Home to the 'Big Three', Detroit has gained little benefit from the auto industry's slow return to profitability.

But it is finding a new role for its vacant lots and abandoned neighborhoods by literally returning to its roots.

It's called the 'urban agriculture movement' and it's being rooted in neighborhoods in and around the city.

How is this happening?

The current state of low property values in Detroit is just one reason why the urban agriculture movement, once seen as a radical venture, is becoming the key to the city's renewal and reinvention.

Drawing upon that same ingenuity and entrepreneurialism that made Detroit the heart of Soul music, Detroit is becoming a national leader in this arena and is viewed as having one of the most progressive urban agriculture movements in the U.S.

Google 'Detroit' + 'urban agriculture' and you will find out for yourself.

You will be quickly taken to a city filled with stories of economic ingenuity. Established in 2003, The Garden Resource Program (GRP) provides support to more than 875 urban gardens and farms in and around the Detroit area.

So many neighborhood residents are dedicated to this movement, creating something green and good in a city that's in want of some TLC. By cultivating community gardens and urban farms, they are helping people eat healthier and creating jobs.

From the development of small scale, inner city food producers to the Sustainable Food Systems Education and Engagement program offered at Wayne State University, a program that evaluates the conventional food system and its relationship to the health of local communities, economies, environments and cultures, the people of Detroit are learning how to reinvent their city.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow attended a ground breaking ceremony last week at Shed 5 of Detroit's Eastern Market, the oldest historic farmers market in the U.S. It will soon be home to a new state-of-the-art kitchen for community members to use in developing and producing their own specialty foods.

In an article by Jonathan Oosting published on January 11th, Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee is quoted as saying, 'This is about giving entrepreneurs the ability to share access to a commercial kitchen and to bring great new products into the marketplace.'

'It's about empowering new small businesses. That's what Shed 5 is about. That's what this kitchen is about...We are creating jobs. This is an economic engine.'

The Detroit Institute of Arts is hosting 'Detroit Revealed on Film' and will be running a number of films over the next several months by local and international filmmakers, showcasing the spirit of the city and its reinvention. One such film is the Urban Roots documentary that 'is a timely and inspiring film that speaks to a nation grappling with collapsed industrial towns and the need to forge a sustainable and prosperous future.'

In the words of Motown's iconic Stevie Wonder, 'I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow, And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow.' This is exactly what's taking place by those living for this city.

Even in times of economic despair, there is hope for our cities. Detroit's reinvention of itself is living testament to that fact.

Sustainable Cities

Nowhere else is the nexus between sustainability and social wellbeing more evident than in our cities, where more than half the world's population now lives. Today's urban centres have become living laboratories for innovative green building technologies, sophisticated energy management systems, and advanced sustainable transportation networks, all focussed on making cities more economically, socially, and environmentally vibrant places in which to live and do business. Urban experts from around the world will gather in Vancouver March 14-16 to examine the key dimensions of urban sustainability - energy, housing, mobility, and eco-restoration. Get more information here.

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