April 17, 2012/LSJ
A proposal from Michigan State University to build an urban agriculture research center in Detroit has great potential.
Universities can offer practical solutions to everyday problems. They are not segregated from the world around them.
A new example of a challenge and the problem solvers eager to tackle it can be found in a proposal from Michigan State University, which hopes to develop a center for urban agriculture in Detroit.
Yes, that’s the Motor City, an iconic industrial powerhouse known for putting the world on wheels with auto manufacturing.
The world is changing, and so is Detroit. Even as the auto industry recovers, Detroit has gotten leaner and less populated. It’s now a city without enough resources to redevelop some of its blighted housing and vacant land.
The idea of bringing agriculture to urban areas is not new. Lansing has neighborhood gardening projects that grow and sell fresh produce here. The Ingham County Land Bank offers a program to match gardeners with vacant lots in the area, many inside Lansing’s city limits. The urban farmers can keep their produce.
But MSU’s proposal is far beyond harnessing individual efforts. The university has approached Detroit about building an urban agriculture research campus that would be at the center of a “worldwide research effort devoted to growing food inside cities,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
The proposal could lead to a $100 million investment and a 100-acre campus that would become part of an international network devoted to urban agriculture. Other cities in the network would include Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg and Nairobi.
The proposal has yet to receive an OK from the city and still must be fully outlined. But the concept is solid and deserves serious consideration.
This is an ideal opportunity for Michigan to unleash the power and expertise of a research university on a significant problem. Improving access to fresh food in Detroit’s urban neighborhoods will raise the quality of life in Detroit. Done as part of a major MSU initiative, it could make Detroit a center for innovation on an issue that has impact on cities around the world.
Such an effort ties into MSU’s “land grant” philosophy of extending its expertise into the communities it serves and would demonstrate the impact Michigan’s top research universities can have in solving the state’s challenges. It’s a potential win for all.