Detroit’s new urban agriculture is a good start: Part I

The city of Detroit’s urban agriculture ordinance makes community gardens legal where they were once prohibited due to certain zoning rules.

Community gardens are a part of the landscape of the City of Detroit. As the city’s population dropped, single family housing fell into disrepair and the number of vacant lots rose. Urban gardens have become a mainstay on many vacant lots in every part of the 139 square mile city. The interesting reality is that until the passage of the urban agriculture ordinance in April of 2013, many of these gardens were not legal uses based on the zoning code.

The development of community gardens is a good example of a viable reuse of property that required the zoning code to catch up with the use. Housing and neighborhood commercial uses were greatly reduced in the city as it lost population during the past 60 years. As less financially viable properties were demolished to reduce blight and potential criminal activity, the newly vacated spaces became ideal locations for neighborhood gardens. Local residents and other community-based groups maintain the neighborhood gardens which provide food for local food banks and needy populations.

The development of the ordinance was the result of a great deal of work and support between the city of Detroit and numerous local non-profit organizations, foundations, educational institutions, block clubs and local residents. Detroit’s Planning Commission staff developed a working committee of community stakeholders to look at best practices and to draft a workable ordinance that will legally allow community gardens and small scale farming in the city. Michigan State University Extension provided staff who participated in the process of looking at best practices as well as the helping to develop the structure and language of the new ordinance.  

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