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The impacts of urban gardening on gentrification

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Posted at 10:34 AM, Sep 21, 2022

DETROIT — There is no shortage of vacant homes on Manistique Street in downtown Detroit. Many of the houses here fell into foreclosure during the housing crisis back in 2008. But resident Myrtle Curtis is determined to bring life back into this section of the city she calls home.

For the better part of 10 years now, Freedom Freedom urban gardenhas been bringing fresh produce and a bit of light to an otherwise forgotten section of town. Curtis looks around at what’s growing here and sees much more than food.

"The social impact we've made has made a real difference," she said.

Nationwide, there are more than 29,000 garden plots like this one. But it turns out that bringing green space and growth to urban cores does not always accomplish the goals intended by growers and planners.

"The law of unintended consequences applies to urban gardening as well," said Jason Hawes, a professor at the University of Michigan Campus who teaches environmental sustainability.

While urban gardens offer plenty of benefits to the communities they serve, Hawes says they also have the potential to push gentrification.

"What we’ve seen is when you build a lot of gardens, you will see rising property values, rising rents, and displacement which is ultimately gentrification," he explained.

Hawes and his colleagues have spent countless hours studying urban gardens in Detroit, a city where 80% of the population is Black. In Detroit, they’re bucking a national trend of other cities like Denver and New York City, where urban gardens are pushing original residents out.

Hawes says there are lessons to be learned from what’s happening no matter the location.

"What would help make urban gardening the best for people is to invest in the people who are already there," he said.