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E-M:/ Brownfields to Greenfields to Places of Love--Charles Simmons

Enviro-Mich message from CSim592951@aol.com

Brownfields to Greenfields and Places of Love
By Charles Simmons

An article in the New York Times on Sunday, Jul 7, by Jodi Wilgoren discusses 
the challenge in Detroit of revitalizing the communities while tearing down 
vacant homes, something local residents have wrestled with for a long time.  
Wilgoren puts it thus: "Mayor Kilpatrick wants to tear down the city to save 
it." While some other cities, the reporter explains, has the funds to rebuild 
that which is torn down, Mayor Kilpatrick is faced with the choice of tearing 
down without rebuilding.  The writer gives lots of examples of how Detroit is 
failing, and from a traditional top-down perspective, shared by many city 
planners and urban leaders, that would be a fair assessment. That might also 
be the view of some of our leaders right now, I don't know, but I hope they 
will consider some alternative thinking. 

On Wednesday, Jul 3, I appeared along with Atty. John Stephens before the 
City Council to discuss reappointment to the Citizen's Advisory Committee to 
the Brownfield authority. Both of us agreed that the Brownfield Authority and 
the Citizen's Advisory Committee were good ideas that will help clean up the 
industrial areas and restore them to productive use and economic development. 
However, we argued that we were moving too slow by only hearing corporate 
applications one at a time, that the hearings were not widely publicized, and 
that the Citizens group has no direct contact with its counterpart. Council 
members Maryann MaHaffey and Kenneth Cockerel said they would move to hold 
hearings about those issues and it seemed that the other members were in 
agreement. So far: so good.  

Now, let me argue that we also need to consider going beyond the clean up of 
the industrial sites and take a giant step in our thinking about what to do 
to clean up and utilize the abundant vacant residential land which is 
generally viewed as a dangerous eyesore and a cancer on the cityscape. 

Don't laugh when I suggest that the city get behind community gardening as a 
central focus for restoration of vacant residential land and as a step toward 
community development, decreasing crime, and respiriting many of the blighted 
neighborhoods. . It is a fact that community gardening has been utilized for 
over a century in the U.S. to rescue communities during periods of economic 
A century ago, Detroit Mayor Hazen Pingree passed out seeds and promoted 
community gardens throughout the city to save the population from starvation 
during one of the nation's major depressions.. I used to think of gardening 
as a nice hobby that my grandmother and her neighbors undertook, and it 
provided some food as well. But I didn't think of it in a serious way until I 
met the late Gerald Hairston, one of the most loving and giving human beings 
I have ever encountered. He was Detroit's preeminent urban farmer and 
gardener. Gerald was responsible for hundreds of gardens throughout the city, 
at public schools, senior citizen's centers, and in neighborhoods of all 
stripes. He was a leader in the 4-H Clubs in this city, which has the oldest 
urban 4H club in the nation. . 
To Gerald, gardening was a means to beauty, self-sufficiency in food 
production, and also the healing of the people. He would say that "a people 
are not free until they can feed themselves." Today there is a growing 
national movement to rebuild urban communities,  and community gardening is 
at the center. 
Detroiters need to join this movement, to return to the idea that there is a 
link between the earth and the people and all living things. There is still a 
link between economic and social conditions, good health and the earth even 
though we live in a post-industrial economy. In many of our neighborhoods, 
there are no super markets or decent stores available for shopping, and many 
neighbors have no vehicles or are not physically able to go outside of the 
community. Community gardens could help to feed the homeless and people in 
need while giving them the opportunity to be proud contributors to their own 
livelihood. Gardening is good for the heart and the mind and is a method of 
bringing neighbors together to share their efforts and rebuild the 
communities. Gardening gives the community an opportunity for elders and 
youth to come together and exchange ideas and energy and is mutually 
enjoyable. The elders can teach the young folk about canning food, quilting, 
and maintenance of old homes and vehicles and bikes. But most of all, the 
elders will pass on values about how to live.  While working on the gardens, 
the neighbors will begin to talk about plans for further economic 
development, affordable housing, internal transportation systems that will 
help the residents get from their homes to the busses or to work. We will 
begin to talk about how neighbors can share resources and skills to help one 
another.  We can share babysitters, run errands, shop, and organize 
tutorials. We can talk about turning off the television and begin to read at 
home and with neighbors. We can talk about cooking healthy meals and why it 
is necessary for us to stop eating fast food. 

These efforts do not exclude larger economic planning but should compliment 
such plans and the neighbors, once mobilized, should be involved in making 
those decisions.  This is the importance of Citizen's District Councils and 
we should save them for they are a part of the democratic process, which is 
not only about efficiency but the inclusion of neighbors in decision making.  
We can be sure that if the residents don't feel a part of the process, they 
won't vote. I bet that those 80 per cent of the population that does not vote 
fall into that category. But we can change that now with Community Gardening 
as one step forward.  

On Saturday, July 6, some 60 volunteers from around the city and Metro 
Detroit joined with neighbors on Wabash and Marquette in Northwest Goldberg 
to clean up an industrial site , stop illegal dumping, and prepare some 
vacant lots for a community garden. From early in the morning to late 
afternoon, volunteers from the United Auto Workers worked side by side with 
construction workers, nurses, lawyers, elementary and high school students, 
the unemployed, environmentalists, a ministers and retired folk. The most 
senior participant, Lasker Smith, a retired member of Local 600, drove in 
from Ecorse. He is 85.  One of the youngest participants, a pre-schooler, 
painted rocks and bricks and herself but had a great time. 
--The reporter from the New York Times did not see the energetic young people 
of Detroit Summer who are painting murals across the city with the theme: 
What Do I Want My Community To Look Like. The reporter missed the unveiling 
of murals at area elementary schools with the same theme of hope and change. 
. We must realize that a city's problems are not just for the Mayor or the 
Council. We all must take responsibility, from the Coleman Young Center to 
the elementary schools, churches and campuses, factories and law offices, we 
need to rethink what it means to develop communities.  From the top down or 
from the ground up or a mixture of both?  Which will unleash the greatest 
spirit of healing, hope and love throughout the city? 

Charles E. Simmons is a professor of law and journalism at Eastern Michigan 
University and Co-Chair of the Committee for the Political Resurrection of 

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