DETROIT (Aug. 3, 2010) – Like many Wayne State University Law School students, Mary Jo Weindorf and Sarah Kwiatkowski, now an alumna, were drawn to study law in Detroit due to the many outreach, community development and advocacy opportunities its location provides. What they may not have realized at the time, however, was just how large a role they potentially would play in Detroit’s revitalization efforts.
Kwiatkowski and Weindorf have, for the last six months, gained practical legal experience working on an urban agriculture policy paper for the city of Detroit under the leadership of Wayne Law Professor John E. Mogk, a nationally renowned urban planning expert. The paper, titled “Promoting Urban Agriculture as an Alternative Land Use for Vacant Properties in the City of Detroit: Benefits, Problems and Proposals for a Regulatory Framework for Successful Land Use Integration,” was submitted to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh yesterday.
The paper illustrates the past significance of urban agriculture to the city of Detroit, citing, among other things, that “urban agriculture on a grand scale is nothing new to American cities.” In fact, victory gardens, run by the nation’s residents, produced more than 40 percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables during World War II.
The paper recommends that Detroit should expand existing urban agriculture operations to reduce vacant land; provide jobs and wholesome, inexpensive food to area residents; and decrease costs associated with policing and maintaining the city’s inventory of vacant, blighted lots.
“There is more than enough land to support farming activities for every resident, cooperative and for-profit business that wishes to engage in urban agriculture,” Professor Mogk states. “It would behoove the city and the community to explore ways to encourage and support different forms of urban agriculture – individual plots, community gardens and the few larger sized farms that may overcome formidable obstacles to assembling sizeable agricultural sites.”
He adds, “Much has been said about the need to achieve economic justice in reshaping Detroit’s economy for the 21st century by assuring that all residents benefit from future economic planning. No activity has greater potential for realizing economic justice than urban agriculture if city land is made available on a widespread basis to residents to help meet their nutritional and economic needs.”
The analysis identifies problems associated with integrating agriculture into a traditional urban land use pattern; examines best practices of a number of cities in promoting and regulating agriculture; describes incentives that could be adopted by the city to encourage agricultural use; discusses the effect of the Michigan Right to Farm Act on Detroit; and proposes how the city’s master plan and zoning ordinance could be amended to accelerate and successfully manage agricultural land use in Detroit.
For Weindorf and Kwiatkowski, the paper provided an excellent opportunity to learn how to affect change within a community through the law.
“Whether all or parts of the policy are adopted, we were able to learn what goes into formulating this type of policy paper under the supervision of one of the country’s top urban development experts,” Weindorf said. “I am thrilled to see firsthand the ways in which I’ll be able to use my law degree in the future.”
The Detroit City Council is expected to adopt an urban agricultural policy within the next several months. For now, Mogk, Weindorf and Kwiatkowski are hopeful that the paper will contribute to formulating the best possible policy for Detroit and its residents.