By Patrick Crouch
23 Oct 2012
I moved to Detroit almost 10 years ago, largely because I was interested in learning more about the city’s burgeoning community gardens. At the time, little media interest was being paid to Detroit or its urban agriculture movement, and it certainly was not a place folks were looking to for the future of city gardening.
Not long after my arrival, my sister hit me with a sucker punch of a question: “Don’t you ever worry that your work in community gardening is contributing to gentrification?”
I vehemently denied her charges, but in the back of my mind I had already been turning over the question, and feared that she might be right. Over the years, her question has stuck with me, and it seems especially pressing now, as development in Detroit is ramping up. Proposals for a light rail system, construction of a high-end grocery store, and the rehabbing of luxury lofts all have folks wondering where this will lead. Some see it as Detroit’s rebound, others worry that rents will begin to skyrocket and the working class will be driven out.
Looking at the Detroit landscape, there is still so much empty land, and so many vacant buildings, it can often be difficult to imagine gentrification even happening. I’ve met people who say “a little gentrification would be a good thing for Detroit.”
There are things that can and need to change about the city, but change in a neighborhood is often organic — one group of people finds themselves in better economic situations and moves on. Gentrification is systematic; it involves the displacement of people against their will. City governments use economic incentives to attract higher-income people and the businesses that cater to them. Rents and property taxes go up, and those who have historically lived in a community have no choice but to move elsewhere.