The Gardens of Detroit - a role model for Dublin?


One half of us here at DYG is American. Anthea is born and bred in Detroit, Michigan, so it is a city we have been back to time and again. And although very different from Dublin, there is one thing in common: property prices have collapsed. They have done so in spectacular fashion and have been doing so for decades. The city has gone from a peak population of 1.8 million people to 900,000, leaving a lot of empty space. Whether this comes to pass in Dublin remains to be seen, but there are some lessons to be learned for the Irish context. Firstly that growing crops in or near a city can have a tangible value, more substantial that the 'lifestyle' one it enjoys here - it gets food on plates, for those most in need of it, at a lower cost, with less transportation and of greater freshness. And secondly, that there is a promising future for 'real' gardens: gardens which are made and loved by their makers, which have nothing whatsoever to do with professional garden makers or designers and which use salvaged materials out of joy and necessity rather than an earnest desire to do the right thing.

Houses, abandonded as residents moved to the suburbs, become first decrepit, then derelict and eventually become empty spaces. These spaces green over, are colonised by vegetation and are reclaimed by the landscape. Some hardy souls stay in the city, expanding their gardens to include the empty plots around them. Detroit has changed from being the world capital of car manufacturing to the world capital of urban farming. With serious poverty and difficul acces to good food, people are realising that the solution is underfoot, in the soil itself. For a couple of decades there has been a degree of urban farming in Detroit - a local friary runs a food kitchen using its own home-grown vegetables. This is more than 'cosmetic' vegetable gardening: it is done on a large scale with the intention of getting food on plates.

For others the garden becomes an unselfconscious form of expression- 'Folk Art' gardening for want of a better expression. With such a surplus of stuff - houses, cars, factory parts - the materials abound, and this is no-cost, hands-on gardening in its truest form. It's people eking out entertainment, joy, humour or beauty from what they have, and it makes for a much truer form of gardening that what we have experienced here in recent years.

The pictures below show some of the gardens we passed on a recent wander.


A typical Detroit house: boarded up and abandoned and with masses of empty space around it where other houses - now gone - used to be.


A pile of painted doors in one of the zanier gardens.


Good old-fashioned vacuum cleaners on the march with their rubber gloves on.


Bears and other animals having a play-date.


House no 3669: still lived in and a wonderful repository for junk.


It's hard to see the smokestacks and abandoned steel-mills in the background behind this garden. This oasis is near the shores of the Detroit River in the heart of an especially bleak former industrial area.


A personal favourite: a tree pruned and painted to look like a moose.


 

Go a few blocks to the left and some neighbourhoods are intact - little islands of prosperity where people have stayed in the city. Here we are passing the home of Meg White of the White Stripes - a Detroit native.


For lovers of dereliction, the 'downtown' area takes some beating - here we are outside the main train station.


The 'downtown' area could have been twinned with Dublin in the 1980's - and could be again as we see our world changing........