Greg Lindsay over at Fast Company published a piece about Detroit's plans to tear down large tracts of abandoned residential neighborhoods and replace them with natural space and farms, and asked a question I haven't seen many asking: is that really a good idea?

Detroit has seen a huge drain of citizens over the last few decades. In 1950s, there were nearly 2 million residents within city limits, but today that number is less than 1 million. About 40 square miles of the city is made up of abandoned housing. Entire skyscrapers and schools lie empty and forgotten. Some residents have even taken to urban hunting to supplement their diets and bank accounts.

One of the ideas that has been suggested over the past few years is to tear down some of the empty buildings and plant open space and farms in their place. With some houses in the Motor City going for less than the cost of an electric bike, tearing down a sizeable portion of the city doesn't sound like an unreasonable idea. It would cut down on the costs associated with keeping up city infrastructure — police and fire and sewer, gas, and other utilities — and would concentrate the remaining residents in more densely populated neighborhoods.

On the surface, it sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea. But in his article, Lindsay explores some of the reaons why Detroit's plans could be the wrong path.

One of the big problems with the plan is it removes density from the city where it needs it most, within the core. Lindsay says there is a difference between the city of Detroit (population 912,062 in 143 square miles of space) and the metropolitan area of Detroit (which has 4,425,110 citizens within 3,3913 square miles). When a residential block is flattened and returned to farmland within the Detroit city limits, it's not necessarily forcing denser development to popup in the city core. In fact, it's more likely that the outer suburbs of the city will absorb the growth. Yes, the unsustainable, far-flung suburbs — exactly the wrong place for development to shift if density is the goal.

The Fast Company article also points out that more than any other factor, extreme poverty is to blame for the city's economic problems — not the extra cost of having to provide for empty neighborhoods. Removing the neighborhoods will reduce the cost of running the city, but it won't do anything about the underlying problems.

Swing over to read the whole article. It's a good one and should at the least make you think through your opinion of urban (re)development.

What do you think? Does it make sense to turn parts of Detroit back into farmland?

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