By Mark Whittington
Flint, Michigan is committing to urban farming zones, having designated several ‘Urban Green Zones’ within a mile of the city center. The largest, on the east side of Flint, encompasses some 30 blocks with another major green zone on the north side of town, as well as smaller ones throughout the city.
While a look at the current draft of the nascent Flint Master Plan, reveals just how far they have to go–given the reality that over half of the peak population has fled the greater metro area, with the abandonment of the auto industry–there are some encouraging signs, especially for urban farmers.
Rumor has it that Flint has denied the fire-sale of abandoned lots to speculators, instead establishing a Land Bank model, and is seeking committed landowners for vacant lots in the green zones. Taxes on these ‘undeveloped’ (although many are still ‘brown’) lots are only $100 annually and committed owners, demonstrating availability for the community, might receive breaks on even these modest amounts.
Many newly created ‘green’ coalitions and permaculture organizations, such as Flintopia, have emerged to take advantage of the upcoming zoning changes. Despite Flint’s over-hyped reputation in the media Michigan is a very lush place. While this author still has the Pacific NW on his bucket list, Flint is the lushest place I have ever lived. Outside of the Philippines it is surely the lushest spot in the temperate zone. And I have lived…everywhere else.
I was encouraged enough by this that I left the Aspen Valley at the beginning of this past summer to come live in a tent and establish Flintopia with a close local friend and his son. Flintopia is the brainchild of the son, (along with a professor/mentor at Maharishi University of Management), the friend is the engine, and I am the one with the most ‘sustainable living’ experience–which is to say that, at this point, I am the one who has talked about it the most–and am also the most mechanically inclined.
Flint is about to address the issue of urban livestock, as in “should we, or shouldn’t we?”, so we have prepared a brief–with many thanks to UFH, titled “Livestock Density in Urban Green Zones” for presentation to city council mid-October (a copy may be requested by emailing Flintopia@comcast.net).
As already mentioned, the Flint area has amazingly diverse flora; on our first hike this past summer, we saw, (and stuffed ourselves with), red and yellow cherries, grapes, red, black and gold raspberries, apples, pears, and sumac. We also marked several species for fall harvest; hickory nuts and shag-bark (for syrup), black walnuts, wild carrots (that have cross-bred with heirlooms). There are many berries not yet mentioned and don’t get me started on the fauna that virtually fell into our lap during our non-profit’s incubation in Metamora this past summer; an abandoned fawn, a wild turkey pullet, a rabbit kit…
And yet Flint proper is also the abandoned former site of the American auto industry; which by definition is not kind. Huge swaths of land were left with useless, standing factory or assembly-line hulks, subject to vandalism, and drawing in the disaffected to roost, left for the taxpayers to clean up, of course, and even where these have been removed, the lots are still termed ‘brown’ or otherwise contaminated.
Hence, we have adopted the sunflower, a great healer of land, as our current Flintopia backdrop and we are committed to restoring the east side of inner Flint to its former edenic glory. More to follow!