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Urban farming. Glasgow to Detroit

Glasgow2Detroit Trailer from Away Ye Grow on Vimeo.

Don MacKeen, an Amercian expat in Glasgow mailed me about his documentary Detroit to Glasgow, which is about urban farming and creating new futures in post-industrial cities.

Just came across your website tonight – your Saul Alinsky article – and thought you might be interested in a video I did with my wife and a friend. I’m from the states but live in Glasgow, Scotland and we’re all involved in community gardening, and we went to Detroit this summer to interview people in the urban farm movement there, as well as people doing likewise here.

Watch the movie Glasgow to Detroit at AwayYeGrow.org. From the website. Emphasis added.

Glasgow, once the 2nd city of empire.

Detroit, formerly the Motor City.

Glasgow had at is peak over 1 million citizens and was one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Today the population hovers around 600,000.

Detroit was a city designed for 2 million residents. Now under 900,000 reside there. It suffers 70 fires a night and is littered with empty lots.

Glasgow was a city that made its living ship-building. Now that industry is gone.

Detroit manufactured America’s automobiles. And now that industry is gone.

Both cities had motorways rammed through them. Both have seen decay through planning and lack of planning. Both have high levels of deprivation.

But now the residents of Detroit have created an urban farming network that is creating an opportunity from decay. Is there a lesson in there for Glasgow and all those other cities that have seen a decline since the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s?

Looking at Detroit, comparing and contrasting its experience with Glasgow, we will look at what has happened to a once prosperous city and see first hand how ordinary people have overcome official antagonism to their needs and created a vibrant system of farming. As the supermarkets deserted Detroit , the residents filled the gap. Does this point to a future that goes beyond corporate control?

Don explained more about the movie in a subsequent email.

My wife (Jackie McMcaster) and me came up with the idea to go to Detroit after seeing the Julien Temple documentary “Requiem For Detroit.” It made us think there were connections between Detroit and Glasgow – both post-industrial cities, both lost a lot of their population. like Detroit there are a lot of people involved in urban gardening, although it’s a newer thing here than there. we both feel that while Scotland (and the rest of the UKk) gets whatever the American system is dishing out, usually about 5 years later, wouldn’t it be great to import some of the stuff we want? like real community engagement, sustainable ways of living, etc.

I had just self-published a book called “Why You’re Being Robbed“, and it included a lot of interviews, so we thought that doing a series of interviews with people in Detroit and then comparing what they said to people in Glasgow would be interesting. so Jackie organised the trip, raised the money, and i got a little cash from the Peter Gibson Memorial Fund. we were travelling to the states anyways, as i was going to visit my folks who live in florida, so we made the detroit detour first, brought our two sons (aged 4 and 9) and our friend Bob Hamilton came as well. we stayed with a folk singer julie beutel who also drove us around. her boyfriend is the first detroit interview, Paul Weertz. over 5 days we visited a number of projects and really got more film than we could ever use – the original idea was a 20 minute film! we got to meet Grace Lee Boggs, an amazing person, who turned the interview around on us and really got us thinking about not just solving problems but laying the groundwork for meaningful change, something lasting.

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  • Good to see my friend Don get a bit of publicity for what I consider a wonderful project. I always maintain that left to their own devices the ordinary people will use their resilience and ingenuity to co-operate and over come their problems. In Greece the potato farmers from around Thessilonika have cut out the merchants, who were ripping them off, by-passed the supermarkets and have started to sell the produce direct to the public, with the hope that other food producers in Greece will follow suit (http://www.radicalglasgowblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/greek-self-help.html). We can change the world and turn society around to suit the ordinary people, it is all in co-operation and thinking outside the corporate box.

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