Homegrown tomatoes replacing the Ford T in Detroit

March 17, 2010 at 4:50 pm 1 comment

By Peter Baeck  

One of the most commonly used examples to describe what truly system changing innovation is, is Fords moving belt assembly line. A construction that brought together elements from  assembly line work in slaughterhouses, technology from Singer sewing machines and tradional methods of car construction in to a new more efficient and cheaper way of (mass)producing cars. It was with this and the impact ford and the car industry as a whole has had on the US and Detroit i watched Requim for Detroit on BBC 3 this weekend.


From when the first Ford T rolled of the assembly line and inthe next many years Detroit was the picture of the american dream, which is in stark contract to the picture of present day Detroit described in the Requiem for Detroit. Unemployment has reached 30%; 33.8% of Detroit’s population and 48.5% of its children live below the poverty line. Forty-seven per cent of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate; 29 Detroit schools closed in 2009 alone. Crime is now so hight that police often don’t react unless a murder has happened and the fear of being robbed has resulted inthat none of the big supermarkets are present in central detroit meaning that citizens here can’t buy fresh produce. Julien Temple, who directed captures this paradox in his article about the documentary in The Guardian.  

What makes all this so hard to understand is that Detroit was the frontier city of the American Dream – not just the automobile, but pretty much everything we associate with 20th-century western civilisation came from there. Mass production; assembly lines; stop lights; freeways; shopping malls; suburbs and an emerging middle-class workforce: all these things were pioneered in Detroit.

 I am not going in to details about what brought Detroit from its prime to its current state (The documentary suggest that some of the key factors involve relying to heavily on a car industry of the past and not adapting to the challenges of globalization, such as cheap cars from asia. What i found really interesting is that in the middle of the despair something interesting is beginning to happen. The empty factories that once mass produced cars are now being torn down, and where they once stood, people are starting to plant crops and grow fields.


Photographer: Fabrizio Costantini/Bloomberg News. Hazel Williams picks green tomatoes at an Urban Farm off Linwood Avenue in Detroit, on Sept. 22, 2008.

Unable to buy fresh food for their children, people are now growing their own, turning the demolished neighbourhood blocks into urban farms and kick-starting what is now the fastest-growing movement across the US. Although the city is still haemorrhaging population, young people from all over the country are also flooding into Detroit – artists, musicians and social pioneers, all keen to make use of the abandoned urban spaces and create new ways of living together.  

What i find so fascinating is that what is happening in Detroit is citizens transforming the system, factories, the system of late 20th century, are replaced by citizens with urban farms which could lay the foundations for a new prosperous and green Detroit in the early 21st century.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

‘Thriving Too’ – community blog dedicated to ‘proving the case for optimism’ Systems, Not Scapegoats

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Disciplined Innovation  |  April 27, 2010 at 10:40 am

    […] that we don’t daily come across great innovations from around the world. I have previously blogged about Detroit and how residents there in a reaction to the lack of fresh produce in the city (the supermarkets […]


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