Inside the heart of Detroit in its downtown, a community garden has settled up. A productible garden that also works as link of public space, green zone and square of encounters.
Inside the heart of Detroit in its downtown, a community garden has settled up. A productible garden that also works as link of public space, green zone and square of encounters. Built on the same plot the ancient Lafayette Office Building was, with more than 1700 m2, at least there is a place in the noisy and stressful downtown, where the workers, visitors and residents can relax and recreate.
By making the space an edible landscape, instead of a concrete plaza , the project tries to make aware people about environmental conscience and showing how to work in a cooperative effort between private and public sectors resulting in a positive and productive use of a vacant parcel in the city.
Talking about the problematic in this case is would be quite extensive, so I will explain the main points on the Detroit decline . Let’s start with a brief summary of the city history.
In 1950, Detroit were one of the lively and prosper city in all United States. The amount of employment in the city was huge, based on the Automotive Industry, the city was expanding beyond its limits. Its economical status was really high as its population, the 4th biggest in all the country, with 1.8 million. There were good times for Detroit, the Motor City.
The decline starts in a short way at the end of this century. The urbanists started creating new suburbs outside the city , which attracted more workers and entrepeneurs. Furthermore, the taxes in the metropolitan area were increasing more and more, and many workshops and garages started moving outside the downtown. And with them the workers and families that depended on it. People started working outside . The “white flight” ,as it was called, had started. We can say nowadys in other words , it was a capital-flight in a small scale.
These suburbs start growing on the following decades, two floor apartments with garden, settled in rows and grids, made Detroit one of the most extensive city, by surface, in all US. The importance of the familiar vehicles was showed in the transit between these dormitory -town and the downtown.
After some racial controversies, in 1967 , after the police tried to evict a party inside one suburb, all the neighborhood reacted against the forces side, organizing disturbance and damaging the urban furniture. This kind of reactions were increased on these years, and caused more migratories movement to other secure places. Some suburbs were not secure anymore. The decline and degradation raised with the high criminality rates and the lack of security.
To all of this problematics one more was added, maybe the trigger. The restant motor companies moved to the Asia market looking for a cheaper labor costs. The unemployent rates began to overflow. The abandoned houses, closed workshops and small bussiness, and empty plots raised as a direct consequence.
These facts have been going on to nowadays. Migrational movements, degradation of spaces and neighborhoods occurs everyday on the city one day was called , the Motor City.
Furthermore, in 2008, a corruption scandal was dismantled inside the politic government who were managing the city, the final nail on the coffin Detroit needed.
First of all the economical problems. Detroit is not too big, its economy is too small. There has been a 61% population lost between 1950 and 2012.
With a population nowadays on 714.000 inhabitants, only 27 out of 100 have a stable job.Between 2002 and 2012 the proportion of Detroit jobs held by Detroit residents fell from 42% to 30%. That traduces itself in a high rate of poverty between the residents, that has raised up to 20%, placing mostly in the worse suburbs and degradated areas.
Despite of these facts, the prediction to change is not hopeful, with more than 300.000 new jobs that would be projected in all Michigan by 2040, only a 2% of them would be received by the Detroit residents. So the problem became really huge not only nowadays, but for the following generations if there is no reaction to change.
Education and employment rates .2012 (Survey of Bussiness Owners, US Census)
Some of this problems are involved with the mobility and access problems the city has. 61% of the employed people works outside of the city, and a 21.5% of inhabitants don’t have access to a vehicle. And showing how it works as a dormitory town, 70% of jobs are held by commuters, people who travel daily between its house and its job.
Access and mobility rates .2012 (Survey of Bussiness Owners, US Census)
On the other hand we found a city full of empty lands and without any uses but full of job opportunities if they would be refurbished and well-designed. The public land and housing abandonment has been highly affected by this decline of the city. In 1950 there was an average of 7 housing units in the suburbs per 4000 m2. Nowadays the figure reduces to 3, less than half.
More than 5100 Ha. are vacant land, and a 36% of Detroit’s commercial parcels are vacant too. The abandonment of structures raised up to 53%, with most of them are less than 4000sq parcels. The numbers really talk by themselves : almost 350.000 housing units vacant.
Abandonment rates .2012 (Survey of Bussiness Owners, US Census)
Current infrastructures were built to accommodate populations more than twice the size of current-day Detroit. These systems are too big and consequently cost too much to sustain. The lack of green zones is remarkable.At least a 30% of parks are in poor conditions. Besides huge number of public equipments have closed, such a schools, hospitals and reacreational spaces…
Equipments and infrastructures abandonment.2012 (Survey of Bussiness Owners, US Census)
With this analysis, we can see some similarities between Detroit and our case of study, the neighborhood of San Antón. For that i choosed this reference to analyze. Maybe are not the causes that origined the actual situation, but yes, the situation itself, their consequences visibles by everybody.
San Antón (S.A) had a prosper past in its good times. A small village inside the city. Populated by working class with their bussiness in the own houses or in the ground floors, were obligated to move outside the neighborhood were the degradation started caused by the crisis. An small flight of capitals began, as well as its population, and S.A started being a dormitory-neighborhood. Then, with high rates or marginality and criminality, was abandoned to its cause were the Racha project (the one supposed to give it a new reborn) was stopped. Nowadays, the lack of commercial activity, the abadandoned plots and dwellings, in addition with a high unemployment and the third age population, has isolated S.A from the rest of the city, and ask desperately for a new positive image.
(The similarities I have found, with due respect to the inevitable differences, had been bolded at the explanation of the Detroit context in this article.)
– Compuware Corporation. It was the main investor in the project . An american software company with its headquarters placed in downtown Detroit ( just a few blocks from the empty plot ). The company provided financial support, planning and construction expertise, as well as volunteer hours to create Lafayette Greens. Compuware places a great importance on community service and enrichment and civic participation, and its interests were to create a outside space where their workers could meet out their timetables and participate, reinforcing the teamwork.
– Peter Karmanos Jr. The founder of Compuware Corporation focused all his efforts of developing the project. With addition knowledge as a master gardener, Peter had several interests in developing the garden:
-improving downtown in an innovative and productive manner.
-creating a space where our employees, our downtown neighbors and visitors can learn about gardening in an urban setting.
-encouraging other downtown-based businesses and residents to reach out the empty spaces that surround them.
– Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture. The architecture studio who designed the project. Compuware chose them because of their high experience and specialization in landascape site planning, more than 22 years of work precede them. Ken Weikal , the founder, also manages a nonprofit association , Growtown, helping to improve degradated urban sites with easy and inexpensive design interventions in the Detroit area.
– Tooles Contracting Group . This Detroit company was the general contractor in the construction of the garden. They dedicate mostly in fitting out the plot and the construction of sheds in the garden.
– Gwen Meyer. She is the manager and coordinator of the garden full time. Since 2008, Gwen has worked with urban agriculture projects Earthworks Urban Farm and Rising Pheasant Farms.
– Megan Heeres. She manages the Community Art and Garden Program Manager. She also collaborates in Compuware providing employees with the opportunity to create and enjoy more community spaces and experiences within their work environment, both inside and outside the building .
–Compuware’s Urban Green Group volunteers. A group of workers at Compuware collaborated in free hours, helping to construction of the garden.
– Zeimet Wozniak & Associates. A local company of Civil Engineering and Permitting worked with the team to get the permission of the City Council to build the open urban garden in the downtown.
– Michigan Wildflower Farm. This Landscape company was contracted in order to produce thousands of transplants that would fulfill the grown tables.
– Gleaners Community Food Bank. This food bank association of Southeastern Michigan, is one of the direct beneficiary of the project. Monthly the excess of production goes to their association.
– Alternatives for Girls. Another direct beneficiary. It is a nonprofit association serving homeless and high-risk girls and young women. Again the excess of production goes directly to them.
–Detroit downtown residents. Anyone can take part in the garden. Besides of the material benefits they get, their style of urban life have been improved. A meeting public point has ben created from nothing, the garden serves a place for neighbors to meet and enjoy greenery, while simultaneously providing organic foods to the community.
–Detroit downtown workers. Direct beneficiaries aswell. They now count with a relaxing spaces to disconnect with the working monotony. In addition the community work helps in affective relations and have a positive effect on the company work teams.
–Art designers. They now have a special area in the garden to show their pieces and works. Monthly Megan Heeres contact with them and organizes expositions of their artworks.
Since its official opening in late August 2011, Lafayette Greens has been a big success. In 2012, its first growing season, the garden produced more than 800 kg of fresh product according to Gwen Meyer, who manages the garden for Compuware full-time. The excess, are donated to Gleaners, a local food bank, and other community groups (volunteers can take small amounts with them). Since 2001 they hosted over 1000 volunteers in over 2500 hours of volunteer service aswell.
Kids from school nearby and other nearby programs come to learn and play. Volunteers from Compuware, the headquearters building, and other nearby offices show up regularly to have a break inside the garden and forget for a little time about the stressfull stylelife they have at their offices.
By this way the project intention works perfectly. The designer looked closely at the relationships between the garden and the surrounding urban context. Maybe it could be a difficult part to maintain the image of the downtown and not being a “island” inside a building sea. The goal was to create a community garden as a sophisticated urban space that is not only productive, but adding pleasure and outdoor activity to the urban experience. The garden counts aswell with a children playground , a open round space that works as meeting point and a own space dedicated to expositions of local artists.
The flow movements through the garden are properly well made. The overall design of Lafayette Greens was shaped by the site analysis. Raised vegetable beds were oriented for optimal sun exposure based on sun angle studies, especially critical in an environment of tall buildings. Due to its unusual shape, pedestrians had to go out of their way when passing through the area or cut across the vacant site. A wide lavender promenade carries people along this line. With this method , undirectly, they organized the movements of the users, transverselly to the plot shape. Pedestrians can move through the space quickly, rest on a bench or enter the garden and explore over 200 types of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers The visuals were also an important part in the project, letting free open visuals from all sorrounding buildings.
Why it has been a succes the Lafayette Green project?
It has achieved to transform a dead plot into a livefull community service. The importance lies on the agents who frequent the garden. Two different groups population join together in a productive public space. It has achieved an edible landscape where bussiness man can relax, take a break and socialize with their partners, adding a food production while it. On the other hand the neighbors had seen a great impact, not only in the economic way, and with no cost for the community. They now have a new well designed public space that works in a productive way aswell, and complement the lack of common spaces for inhabitants who live in these areas.
Cultural sustainability : the project has achieved making people conscious about environmental behaviour and showing to work in a cooperative way. Besides the organization of educational conferences, dedicated for old and youth, reinforce the culture of green and self-production. It can be considerated as a new cultural space inside downtown, with the art expositions, talks, workshops..
Economical sutainability: it is a self magaged space and with no cost for users or visitors. The neighborhood has been improved with no cost for them, only with investments by private agents. Furthermore, apart from the great image that the garden has given to this area, it has generated an economic impact for the commercial shops nearby ( most part for the coffeeshops and food-services retails), gaining a constant flow of people.
On the other hand they also got a constant growment of vegetables that benefits directly to the users as the neighbors who farm the garden, and other third agents as the food banks who get the excess of production, and it is not a small amount.
Social sustainability : this kind of public space has an important participatory part. Anyone can take part in planting, tending, harvesting, learning and teaching. It is a place to meet and make personal relations stronger. The agents involved, as the residents and workers in dowtown, get together in social action at the community garden. This area normally dedicated on bussiness actions, now count with a social common area which benefict all parts involved. Tthe project has also a part called The Children’s Garden, with workshops in order to bring younger participants in this multiage context.
Besides the social labour they develope by donating the excess of production to charity associations and food banks.
Environmental sustainability : the garden is an opportunity to showcase and demonstrate sustainability. It counts with a stormwater managment, with slow slopes, that catches and slow the stormwater runoff. Besides a high efficiency irrigation system, control periodically the supply the plants need.
The sheds are built from old pallets and doors recycled. They have also created a urban bio-diversity with more than 200 plants: vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit trees, berries, an and important part native species, which adapt perfectly on climate and their needs maintenance are very low , add diversity to the urban environment and habitat for pollinators.
The entire garden is managed organically. Bio-intensive raised grown tables with drip irrigation are highly productive ,with a potential 200-400% increased caloric production vs conventional gardens, consume less water and require low energy inputs.
The main problem they had with the construction of the garden, was about security. Compuware would have preferred to leave the site open, but the City Coucil insisted on putting a fence. Now the garden is locked up at night and most weekends, and camera surveillance 24 hours managed also by Compuware security staff.
Other problems I see is the reduced timetable for collaborating inside. The host volunteer hours are only from 11 am to 1 pm, and just Tuesday , Wednesday and Thursday. For example, at weekends the maintain the garden closed, when it would be a perfect time for organizing workshops or activities for the residents, when mostly have free time.
The object to study as I said might be considerate with similar conditions to our case, S.A. No by the economical or social aspects, but the premises of the context at the start of the problematic , and might be a good case for thinking properly solutions.
First of all, the importance of including new “actors” in this kind of social garden can be interesting. By adding the working-bussiness agents who visit the garden, we can achieve two benefits. Apart for getting a social new space for relaxing and socializing themselves and their colleagues, which will benefit their companies too, these new relations can get incomes to the sorrounding area or neighborhood. Besides a new image is generated, and can be known as the garden where the city center workers take a break of their stressfull lifes. This will get life and flow movements into the degradated area the park will be placed.
An important part is also the social labour this spaces manage. Other than promoting environmental and nutritional education, donating food to third parts has besides a positive image for own garden. Not to mention the cultural aspect this kind of spaces kind include, from children workshops to art or film expositions, that can be placed with low cost elements inside the plot. This is good way to get the kind of people or agents you want by adding their interests and knowledge as an important part of the project.
The neighbors, by first hand, will get a benefit too. Apart for viewing regenerating a abanadonded plot of their sorroundings, the groups of people in our case, the third age population, will get an extra social space for their free time, entertainment and the most important part, reinforcing the community relation between them. The construction of the garden can be a beggining of co-working of all the neighbors with knowledge about the subject, and in our case the proportion of handyman or self-sufficient workers is really high.
It can also be a great activator for collaborating with all the multiple associations the neighborhood has.
-Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance and Management of Edible Landscapes . April Philips
-Landscape Architecture Magazine Vol.103
Gwen Meyer . Manager and Coordinator of Lafayette Greens