Black Land Grab?

Black people must think about what constitutes a just and equitable relationship to urban land, and quickly. White flight has left many major cities with populations that are mostly black, presenting both a painful continuation of segregation, and an unprecedented opportunity.

D-Town Farm row crop marker

D-Town Farm row crop marker

Majority-black cities like Washington DC, Baltimore, Atlanta, Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis and Newark (to name a few) have a fast-closing window ofopportunity to define and articulate the values black people hold about urban land, and the uses of that land we will embrace or reject.

Detroit is one city that embraces urban agriculture as a valued activity. D-Town Farm and the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network have been leaders in this thinking, growing and doing. But does that mean that anyone doing any kind of growing in the city is a good thing? Or are there criteria for what urban agriculture should look like within black definitions of just relationship to land?

Eric Holt Giménez’s recent article in The Huffington Post  asks if Hantz Farms, a planned 175 acre tree farm in the city of Detroit, is the kind of urban agriculture Detroiters have in mind. Hantz Farm describes itself as “Detroit’s Saving Grace,” but Giménez describes it as a land grab:

In the short run, the purchase by Hantz cleans things up, puts foreclosed lots back on the tax rolls and relieves the city of maintenance responsibilities. If the tree farm expands, it could provide a few jobs. In the long run, however, Hantz hopes his farm will create land scarcity in order to push up property values — property that he will own a lot of.

Giménez places this story in a global context, describing Hantz Farm as an example of what is happening to land currently occupied by black people all over the world.  As land becomes a scare and more valuable resource, the 21st century Scramble for Africa seems to extend to African-American neighborhoods on Detroit’s East Side.

What do you think?

  • How can we embrace the urban farming movement without pushing — and pricing– black people out of our homes and neighborhoods?
  •  Where have you seen the desire for urban food security used to greenwash a land grab in other cities?
  • What opportunities and new perspectives open up when we think of this situation as part of black people across the globe competing with others for the right to remain on black land?