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Share your voice on the sale of city-owned land

By Cheryl Simon

On Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at Gleaners Community Food Bank, the Detroit Food Policy Council (DFPC) will be hosting a public listening session on the sale of city-owned land.

With recent media stories about a pending sale of a substantial number of city-owned lots to Hantz Farms, the DFPC received many calls from Detroiters asking about the land acquisition process in general and this potential land sale in particular. We heard from many residents who have attempted unsuccessfully to purchase lots in their neighborhood and/or have been frustrated by a process they say is not easy to understand or follow. We have also heard from members of community development organizations, the faith-based community and others who are concerned about land use.

Although the DFPC is focused on the city’s food system, land-use decisions being made now will broadly impact every resident in the city for decades to come. These decisions certainly impact the gardening and farming community in the city, but also have implications for food processing, distribution, retail and waste/composting sectors of the food system as well.

Much of the vacant land in Detroit is owned by private individuals or firms but the city itself also owns a lot of land as well. Vacant land is a combination of empty spaces, residential lots with (and without) houses on them and industrial lots/ structures.

And we have all heard these statistics over and over:

-Detroit’s population has declined from two million in 1950 to 713,000, according to the 2010 Census data.

-Detroit covers approximately 139 square miles and the city does not have the resources to maintain infrastructure and services over this huge area with the shrinking tax base.

-More than a third of the city’s land or about 40 square miles is vacant (although this number has been revised recently because the previous figure included about nine square miles of parks and cemeteries).

According to Dan Kinkead, who is part of the Detroit Works Project technical planning team and an architect/urban designer with Hamilton Anderson, 25 square miles is probably a better number to describe the city’s vacant land. That includes 19 square miles of purely empty land, five square miles of land with vacant residential structures and another square mile of underutilized industrial land. No parks.

The issue of what to do with vacant land in the city is complex. The city and county have a difficult time just keeping track of ownership and has very limited resources to enforce code violations. Neighbors, block clubs, community organizations and others have been caring for much of the vacant property in residential and commercial areas because the city has been unable to do so. This issue has even gained the attention of national and international media and has fueled the (mis)conception of Detroit as a “blank canvas.”

With so much vacant land in Detroit and the financial pressure on the city, it is tempting to think that the city should sell land to the highest bidder in order to put the land back on the tax rolls and relieve itself of the expense of the maintaining the property.

However, the easy solution is not necessarily the best solution. Land is an important asset and decisions about land use will impact every resident for many years to come. The process of selling land needs to fair and open.

So, on Aug. 22, residents are invited to learn what the current process for selling city-owned land is from public officials, why it is important to have a fair and open land sale process and to share their experiences, ideas and concerns about the sale of city-owned land. The session will be recorded and shared with the community and city leaders.

Our goals for this session are three-fold:

– Inform the public about the need for a fair and just process for the sale of public land.

– Empower the community to share their ideas, concerns and experiences about the sale of city owned land.

– Mobilize the community to engage with the city’s leadership to outline a fair and just process for the sale of public land.

For more information about the public listening session and the Detroit Food Policy Council, visit www.detroitfoodpolicycouncil.net. The event flyer is available to download on the Web site and our Facebook site. In addition, we can be reached at detroitfoodpolicycouncil@gmail.com or 313.833.0396.

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