Friday, May 22, 2009

Agriburbia? Tell that to Detroit

My earlier posting on "agriburbia" – saying "Agriculture is the new golf" and reporting on an in-the-works development near here that will feature farm fields instead of a golf course or – brought an e-mail with this link to a story from the online Detroit Free Press.

It seems some visiting urban planners, noting the enlarging areas of disinvestment in the Motor City, have proposed that eventually the city will resemble clusters of villages surrounded by farmlands. Back to the future, indeed.

Does anyone know of any urban land that has successfully reverted to farmland?

I asked a soil specialist some years back about the feasibility of turning abandoned big-box stores and their huge parking lots back into farmland and was told that, unfortunately, the development scrapes away the topsoil, which takes centuries to create. Maybe with enough chickens and livestock one could replenish the soil?


Anonymous said...

Bring in all the manure from the chicken farms on Maryland's Eastern shore. We can save the Chesapeake Bay and convert a former parking lot back to arable land.

Anonymous said...

There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him. –Robert Heinlein

Michael said...

development scrapes away the topsoil, which takes centuries to createTrue, if left to its own devices. You forget that humans have been making marginal land bloom for millennia. Look anywhere in the world and you fill find places that were once barren and people have made into lush gardens.

Like the above poster said. One the first things you do when gardening is amend the soil.

Remember that composting business in Huntersville everyone was trying to force out? Drop a few truckloads of that and deep till it in and with some thoughtful care/use you are well on your way.

People seem to be blind to the slow inevitability of nature and dismissive of the quick ingenuity of man.

David McKnight said...

There are national, regional and local developmental harmonies to be achieved at intersections of agricultural and urban development.

There is a breathtaking opening sentence on agriculture in "The Columbia History of the World," published by one of the great urban universities in this country, Columbia University in New York City.

I am not sure if I remember the sentence exactly as I read it, so I will just relay it as best I can with attribution to "The Columbia History":

Agriculture, the Columbia study said, is the foundation of all economic activity. Now that covers a lot of historical territory and chronology, from ancient times to the present day, so perhaps there is not a one-way but a two-way cycle to be attended to in the yielding of various stages of urban and farmland development.

Thanks for bringing this interesting and compelling topic to the attention of your Observer readers so that we can all "take a look around for ourselves" and see what the landscape may be looking like in the near future in cities, towns and communities throughout the Carolinas and all across the Nation.

North Carolinians should definitely perk up at and "tune into" such a discussion as this because in another notable opening sentence in a scholastic work, the "Encyclopedia Brittanica" once reported this observation about the Tar Heel State:

"North Carolina is the only one of the 13 original states not founded on a town." So North Carolina was blending town and ag development from this historical "get-go."

consultant said...

We've reached a point in our history where we've created a unsustainable set of living arrangements. Everyone with a working brain knows it, but it's what we've got to work with, so everyone keeps slugging away.

We have a Ponzi scheme economy and mostly failed leadership in every sector and level of our society. In fact, I don't think we know how to recognize real leaders anymore. Or maybe, more accurately, we don't want real leadership, because they might ask us to do something that would require sacrifice.

Sacrifice. What is that? Living within our means? Can't do it.

If that Agriburbia requires ANY hard work, creativity or sacrifice on the part of Americans-forget it. It's doomed before it starts (I bet the plan calls for slave, I mean migrant labor, to work the gardens).

We are so screwed. Really.

Anonymous said...

Watching the History Channel’s series on “Life After People” has convinced me how quickly urban land could revert to nature, if not farmland. The weeds that keep expanding the cracks in my concrete driveway or our asphalt street are further proof of our temporary tenancy.

We humans are our own worst enemy. We have the capability of enacting and enforcing laws to curb big box buildings, recycle old ones, limit human encroachment and so forth, but not the wherewithal to act in concert to accomplish those desirable goals.

Anonymous said...

When we moved here in '94 the home we bought backed up to woods and a creek, both of which rambled (and still rambles as floodplain) quite a distance through our far southeast Charlotte suburban area . Judging from the size of some of the trees in the woods I doubt that this area was ever "farmland", except for maybe some kitchen gardens.
My 3 boys had always loved exploring the nearby woods at our previous home in Tennessee. However, they took one look at the woods behind this house and declared it off limits. It featured hard baked red clay soil, full of holes (snake holes, rodents, who knows from what?), abundant weedy growth, lots of thorny brambles, and scrub trees beneath the taller decidious trees, many of which were showing signs of decline--not a very attractive woods. I know, I know--that's nature, but again this was not a very appealing area. As summer came on the weeds grew to fantastic heights and constantly invaded our yard.
Within the small bit of the woods that was actually our property we began to do a bit of cultivation--created a woodland path back to the creek area,removed ailing trees, brought in some top soil, planted shade loving perennials. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and have had to make compromises with nature but now have a beautiful "secret garden", really fairly low maintenance. The woods also seems to have evolved on its own--many of the scrub trees having fallen during the drought years; as the deciduous trees grow even larger and provide more shade fewer weeds emerge. We have a large herd of deer that lives back there--36 at one count (I've had to adapt the gardens within the rest of my yard due to this)and many different birds. We've recently seen fish swimming down the creek. All of this right off of Providence Road. Many of my neighbors have done similar things. Alas, we cannot grow vegetables due to ever increasing shade and those darn/beautiful deer. I do think we have improved a bit on nature, since people are going to live here no matter what the latest trend is supposed to be. We have made our yard pleasing to us, but accomodating of nature as well. Not too bad for suburbanites!

Anonymous said...

"When one gets in bed with government, one must expect the diseases it spreads" Ron Paul

Jumper said...

While we have portions of government historically trying to save topsoil, its disposal during development is sometimes almost a tragedy. Often it is buried in huge deep trenches along fence or property lines. (This can lead to either unsuspected cost overruns - or real safety issues - in backyard deck-construction projects.) Also it's commonly used to construct slopes, even unsafe slopes, despite the attempts at oversight by private and government inspections.

Some developers will bring projects to within one foot of final grade, except for the building pads or pavement areas, and then re-apply stockpiled topsoils to finish the "yard" areas of lots. Most times, they do not. No topsoils are ever left beneath roadway or asphalt areas unless designated "light traffic" and even then they are used, if at all, over 4 feet deep, the remaining surface being built up with harder non-organic soils.

Non-topsoil silts (AKA "red clay") respond quite well to amendment if plowed and copious amounts of compost applied.

Jumper said...

I planted three pecan trees which produce a plethora of pecans, which I love, yearly. Unfortunately there is also a plethora of squirrels who relieve me of these. I suppose we need to acquaint ourselves with the technique of netting the trees or whatever methods the pros use to keep out varmints. Fruit and nut trees are very easy to grow, but not so easy to keep the fruit of our labors...

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jumper for your insight.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Soon Charlotte will look like Detroit with the clowns we keep electing to city council, county commission, and the school board.

Anonymous said...


Southern Agrarian said...

As others have said, soil fertility can slowly be built back up over time by adding organic matter to damaged soil.

Luckily when land is developed the construction crews who level the land often save the fertile layer of topsoil they scrape away in order to sell it or reuse it elsewhere -- so it doesn't always go totally to waste, though sometimes it does.

But if these areas cannot be returned to productive agricultural land, they can at least be reforested to an extent.

Also, planting various grasses on soil can help to restore soil fertility, but very slowly -- clover and such is especially good for this.

The most important thing is to protect the land and soil from erosion, and planting ANYTHING is better than nothing, whether grass or trees or crops or whatever. This is especially important on sloped land, as rain and runoff over the years will utterly ravage land which does not have roots around to hold the soil in place.

Southern Agrarian said...

David McKnight: "Agriculture, the Columbia study said, is the foundation of all economic activity."

This is very true. Not a revolutionary statement though -- many people in the past have remarked on this fact.

In the 1700s, some of the earliest 'formal' Western economists, a French group called the Physiocrats, proclaimed that agriculture and land was the sole basis of a nation's wealth; see -