Monday, January 07, 2013
Say Something Good About Detroit: John Hantz and his urban forest
John Hantz is buying up lots of abandoned lots and planting thousands of trees.Critics see this as a entrepreneur getting land at far below its market value. Proponents see it as land littered with trash and burned out buildings being replaced by trees. If Detroit ever recovers from its malaise it won't be in this area, a few miles from my house and one of the most decimated areas of the city.
John Hantz wants to plant at least 15,000 trees on about 140 acres. Hantz promises to clear out all the trash and keep the grass cut, things the city cannot afford to do now.
At a demonstration area for the project, Mike Score of Hantz Farms shows off the progress made to transform the vegetation. It's basically a small-scare version of what Hantz Woodlands will look like.
"The brush is gone from alongside the road. There are still some houses, but the vacant space that used to be covered with tall vegetation and brush and garbage is clean," Score says.
It's cleaned up and filled with neat rows of small hardwood trees — oaks and sugar maples.
The company is paying $300 for each lot, a price below almost anyone's idea of a fair deal.
Although some cite him as an opportunist, it is hard to drive through this area of Detroit and not be hopeful that trees are preferable to what is currently there.
Score says that while thousands of trees won't reverse the fortunes of this hardscrabble neighborhood, he hopes it will stabilize things.
The project will buy 1,500 city lots. That still leaves more than 58,000 parcels the city owns but can't afford to manage. That means plenty more opportunities for unorthodox ideas about what to do with Detroit's most abundant resource.