Whether a manifest dream, a land grab, or a prophetic act, when John Hantz saw swaths of vacant land in inner-city Detroit he thought big. Really big.
He proposed paying a tenth of what the city wanted per acre to plant the world's largest for-profit urban farm.
The controversy has been rocking Detroit ever since. Land sale needs formal approval from the city council and mayor - and urban farming policy needs a thorough re-articulation in general.
Finding uses for Detroit's vacant land has been on top of the agenda for city government, residents, entrepreneurs, and community organizers for a long time.
Matthew Dolan of The Wall Street Journal writes, "This summer, a city commission plans public hearings on a zoning ordinance that would permit for-profit farming. That process will force Detroiters to confront awkward questions about their city's development prospects. Among them: Is the abundance of vacant land an asset or a liability?"
The over 200,000 vacant parcels generate no significant tax revenue.
Mr. Hantz says, Detroit "cannot create value until we create scarcity. Large-scale farming could begin to take land out of circulation in a positive way."
But there are reasons long-time urban farming advocates question Mr. Hantz's motivation.
"Hantz Farms officials acknowledge their self-funded venture would create few new jobs in the short term, and only modest revenue for Detroit," writes Dolan.
Kwamena Mensah, who manages the seven acre nonprofit D-Town organic farm, says Detroit's land should not be measured solely on its profit potential, but on "community-building, green spaces and places like this."
The future of Hantz Farm is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: community organizing is powerful.
Mr. Hantz did not approach the project using a community development model. Is that why his original proposal of 10,000 acres has dwindled to a mere 200 acres?
Let SmartPlanet know what you think. Should Hantz Farm be granted 10,000 acres, or will a more community minded solution be possible within Detroit's politically fractured system?
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com