Week 6/15 days until travel

Dumela, everyone! Today we had a snow day! This is both good and bad, for it gave me some time to catch up on my work in other classes, but it worries me that with only two class periods left, we are running out of time to discuss the logistics of our in-country research. I think my classmates and I are pretty laid-back, though, and feel that we can easily “roll with the punches” once on ground.

At any rate, I am disappointed that we didn’t get to hear the guest speakers from today—I was looking forward to it since I learned so much from last week’s engaging speakers. Today I’ll discuss “Community Development Through Gardening: State and Local Policies Transforming Urban Open Space” by Jane Schukoske. Go ahead and click that title to access the PDF online.

Schukoske discusses the benefits of community gardens, the leadership, the policy, and the current problems thwarting the garden organizations now. Firstly, what is a community garden? Most simply, it’s a plot of land, owned either by the city or privately leased, that is taken care of by the local community or neighborhood, and is often planted with flowers, fruits, and/or vegetables.

Myrtle Thompson's corn fields with the Fisher Building in the background; click for more information

Some of the benefits to the gardens that Schukoske points out are: that they beautify the neighbourhoods, they develop the local economy, they improve property value, they can increase tourism, and decrease criminal activity. The latter is said to be effective under the assumption that most inner-city criminal activity is associated with youth.

She says that with the right policies, the problems that have thwarted community gardens (permanence, access to resources, and legal liability) can be combated. She encourages throughout her article the idea that gardening itself can be a tool for community development with the right laws.

Empty Lots

¼ of the average American city is vacant—I’d venture to say that figure is much higher for Detroit. But no matter the city, a quarter of space still leaves a lot of room for development. And hopefully, not just housing or business development. These vacant spaces can cause problems such as trash-buildup, breed disease, and attract anti-social behaviour.

Social Capital

Now we are introduced to the idea of social capital. Physical capital can be buildings, sidewalks, and bridges, where as social capital is the much less tangible social networks, human relationships, and norms of reciprocity that people find value in from each other. The 1950s and 60s saw a renovation of the physical capital, but left the social capital behind. Schukoske says that community gardens are a good start to build up social capital and civic involvement. Civic involvement (remember? We talked about that way back in Week 2) is another hot topic in the article. Though briefly mentioned, it’s not hard to finish the connections that Schukoske started. She’s basically saying the policy needs to be tailored to engage the community in each other and in the government.

We already know that economic inequality limits civic participation. The more participatory in organizations city citizens are, the more of a difference and impact they will feel they are making. Because when you look at the bare bones of the issue, only you know if you are an active civic servant. Statistics and data showing the city population against city voting population aren’t going to impel non-active citizens to jump up get registered. I guess what I’m trying to say is that civic participation is much more of a subjective feeling than any survey can tell us.

Just to mention briefly—something that came up in the article was the organization of the garden organizations themselves. This could make for a very interesting urban anthropology research project!


All this discussion on community gardens takes me back to my freshman year in Dr. Herron’s City One class. He gave lectures about the history of urban planning and introduced to us the idea of the City Beautiful/City Profitable. The City Beautiful was one of wide avenues, lush parks, and Greek-styled city buildings and museums. This place was not intended to be the residence of the industrial worker. The City Profitable was the city of the future—the vertical city. It included plans for skyscrapers and elevated trains and multi-lane roads for maximum flow of traffic. Even the houses were to be vertical—apartments—with elevators to match. The value of the City Profitable was to come from the future, not from the past.

The face of the City Beautiful has long been associated with white, middle class families who lived and worked in the city. These community gardens are not only appearing around university areas, but in the ghettoes, too. The face of the gardens is not just one “race” or economic class. The organizations promote people who are different from each other to work together. Community gardens echo, in a way, the principle of the City Beautiful. They seek to re-instill values of open spaces, green corners, and self-sufficiency.

Many say Detroit has the possibility to reinvent itself into an urban farm. I don’t think they’re too far off.

Tsamaya sentleGoodbye

This week I’m going to leave you with a video and another way to say goodbye: O siame. The above tsamaya sentle is a more formal way to say it, meaning “go well,” and your response to me would be sala sentle (“stay well”). Also, I changed my banner at the top to a photo I took this past November outside an abandoned building on Ferry St. I just thought the icy picture was too much and we needed something more…transitional?

Click for "Garden Song"

The video is “The Garden Song” by Peter Paul and Mary. For those who know me, you know I’m a huge American folk fan and PP&M are my favorite. For those who don’t, I apologise in advance for this strange personal display of hippie-garden-love. I just thought it matched the article well!

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