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A different vision, saying ‘no’ to Hantz

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Something very new is happening in Detroit. Forces long dispersed are coming together, recognizing the possibilities of creating a future based on values of care, compassion, local production and sustainable ways of living. Thanks to the Hantz Farms/Woodlands proposal, the question of what kind of city we will become is being discussed in barbershops, community centers and around kitchen tables with a new sense of urgency.

Close to 1,000 people gathered on the city’s lower east side Dec. 10, to talk about another path for development. The crowd flowed out into the street, with some people waiting in the cold almost two hours to be admitted through a cumbersome and invasive security check. Long time residents, architects, army veterans, retired teachers, home owners, young people, gardeners, artists, activists, preachers, politicians, real estate developers and concerned citizens voiced objections to the Hantz deal.

Hantz Farms/Woodlands, and much of the corporate elite who support it, envisions a city that fosters land speculation, spectator sports and a service economy dedicated to providing for the comforts and pleasures of a wealthy few.

Hantz, whose corporate history emphasizes banking and finance capital, has repeatedly said his motivation for the project is to “create land scarcity,” thus increasing property values. This approach to development echoes the land grabs happening around the world where corporate forces consolidate their hold on lands that once supported and sustained community life.

What emerged on Dec. 10 was a very different vision. Speaker after speaker talked about creating a city that grows from the strengths of local initiatives to improve neighborhoods. They talked of fostering urban gardening that builds communities, home ownership and locally owned businesses supplying neighborhood needs. People suggested policies and programs that would rebuild neighborhoods in ways that honored the work that many in the room had been doing for years.

Council President Charles Pugh opened the meeting asking how many people lived in the area and how many people opposed the deal. It was clear both through show of hands and subsequent speeches that east side residents overwhelmingly opposed the deal.

Mike Score, president of Hantz Farms/Woodlands, made a brief opening presentation. He said that if the sale was approved, “isolated, dangerous structures would be removed, brush cleared and there will be a well managed landscape.” He said people living in the area would have an opportunity to purchase adjacent lands from Hantz Farms/Woodlands and that no one would be forced to move. He also said that within two years they would tear down 50 structures and plant 15,000 trees. Grass would be mowed every three weeks.

Mr. Score also said he had worked with a community group, Lower East Side Action Plan (LEAP) and made a commitment to “nurture entrepreneurship, recruit people in the area for job openings, provide excellent property management and to work intentionally with others to foster greenbelts and other development.”

People raised very specific questions about the proposal. Professional architects and city planners scoffed at the development agreement, calling it “a public relations piece, not a serious plan.” People pointed out there were no environmental or community impact studies.

Others raised questions of fairness. People told of their how they had been thwarted by city bureaucracy. Others pointed out they had paid much more than Mr. Hantz was offering for land. Councilmember JoAnn Watson called up a member of the administration to affirm that no assessment of the land had even been done.

Thanks to John Hantz, Detroit has the opportunity to point toward another path of development. It is the path that has already begun, fostering local self-sufficient neighborhoods that restore community while rebuilding our city. This vision, rooted in the steady, often unseen work of neighborhood people, is the best hope for our future and that of the planet.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu

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