Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has been working for three years to convert some of the city’s vast swaths of vacant and blighted land to reforestation and urban agriculture. The urban agriculture project proposes to sell 175 acres of vacant, city-owned parcels to Hantz Farms. Southfield, MI-based Hantz Farms, owned by Detroit resident John Hantz, purchased three acres on the city’s lower eastside last fall and planted hardwood and apple trees.
Under the proposed sale, Hantz would be responsible for investing $5 million in start-up costs to clean up the blighted lots, removing trash and mowing the grass, and then plant oaks, maples, and other high value hardwood trees planted in straight, evenly spaced rows. Grass between rows of trees would be mowed regularly, and flowering trees would be planted between streets and sidewalks to create a place of beauty each spring and fall season.
We should commend Detroit’s Mayor and John Hantz for this innovative and non-traditional use of urban blight. Detroit official Karla Henderson even announced that the opportunity would also be available to all city residents for the option for purchase.
Malik Yakini, head of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, a food activist organization, is critical of any urban agricultural project that’s not community-based, and has called this a “land grab’. He certainly has the unequivocal right to voice his viewpoints and opinions.
(Malik Kenyatta Yakini)
However, he told the Detroit Free Press (as reported in its July 5, 2012 issue): “…he was troubled by any plan that allows ‘a wealthy white man to acquire large tracts of publicly owned land’ in Detroit”.
Public assets should be sold in a transparent and open bidding manner so that the public entity receives the most value. Conditioning a sale to a particular race, religion, ethnic group, or gender is bias that is clearly prohibited by law. Mr. Yakini’s statement about public sale to a “wealthy white man” is the worst form of bigotry. Racism is repulsive and evil, regardless of who gives it a voice.
I suggest that Mr. Yakini should publicly renounce his statement and issue an apology.
Spero columnist Sheldon Freilich is a resident of Michigan.