Blog: Patrick Crouch

How does your garden grow? Rather than silver bells and cockle shells, perennially practical Detroiters are turning city wasteland into food for the masses. Patrick Crouch, program manager of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Earthworks Urban Farm, will plant his ideas about food justice and permaculture in our heads this season.

Post 4: A Resilient Economy for Detroit in the Post Industrial Age

When folks come to Detroit, they often remark on the how quickly the economy of Detroit has slipped after the '68 rebellion. This of course is an illusion, and for any one who wants to learn more about the process of Detroit's change, I highly recommend Thomas Sugrue's Origin Of the Urban Crisis.

When people talk about Detroit's economic decline they fail to recognize that essentially the town is a one-trick pony built on a single industry; industrial manufacturing for a foreign market. When I say foreign, I mean outside of the direct community or bioregion, not necessary out of the country. The point is that Detroit is almost completely dependent on a foreign market, and when others are able to provide those goods and services at a cheaper price we are going to lose those markets.

So if Detroit is essentially a boomtown why would I have any hope for it? Well, unlike most boomtowns Detroit is strategically located for the post-petroleum economy. It's surrounded by fresh water, in a temperate climate, surrounded by good quality farmland (that is if folks would stop developing it into suburbs), a natural crossing point between two large land masses, and a natural transportation hub because of its location on the river and across from Canada.

What would an economic development plan look like that addressed the needs of the domestic market? The first would be the acknowledgment of what we need: shelter, water, air, food, clothing, community, and spirituality. What if we took the time to reflect on what we don't need: flat screen TVs, automobiles, computers, cell phones, and iPods. I'd argue that the reason that we all have so much desire for the things we don't need is an attempt to fill the void created by a lack of community and spirituality, a sickness of "progress".

With so many resources now rededicated to our needs and not our desires, just think how quickly our whole community could be thriving, not just surviving. Not just thriving because all needs are addressed, but because the work benefits the community and the work is not just a job, but has meaning.

That's all well and good, but what are some examples of products that folks would manufacture for the domestic market? And wouldn't these jobs be lost as soon as other areas are able to manufacture them for cheaper? And how can Detroit possibly support all the people living in her city limits just based on a domestic market?

These are all excellent questions if I do say so myself. I did, after all, come up with them.

The first thing we have to acknowledge is the coming difficulty of peak oil and climate change. This makes it a whole different game. Very soon, materials will be expensive and difficult to ship, foreign trade will be a fraction of what it is today, and it will be very specific goods, ones not available in our bioregion, and extremely valuable. By creating the domestic economy now, we prepare ourselves for those difficult times ahead. Even with this focus on serving the needs of Detroit this still means large portions of the populace will be without work.

I have two answers for this. The first is that I believe a mass exodus from the city will take place, a re-ruralization. Since farms will shrink (see previous post on regenerative agriculture), more people will have access to land, more people will be needed to farm, and food will be a product with real value again. It won't just be those folks wanting to be farmers that will be moving out to the country, it will also be all those needed to support them; the blacksmiths, tailors, and feed stores operators.

The second answer is that cities like Detroit, ones that are strategically located, will still maintain their function as hubs for small manufacturing and trading to support outlying communities, so there will be other jobs that support the bioregions needs in addition.

So what does this all look like? What are the jobs that come out of this economy? I've just brainstormed a few ideas off the top of my head:

Food. Farmers, compost operations, small greenhouse manufacturers, storage facilities, food processing, small scale retail locations and co-ops, brownfield remediation, windmill manufacturers and operations for food processing, cafes, distribution and transportation, farmers co-op managers, plus all the manufacturing of the tools that are needed to support these endeavors.

Shelter. Building of new shelters, retrofitting old houses, deconstruction of old facilities, installation and manufacturing of low tech heating/cooling solutions, manufacturing of building materials, architects, distribution, and transportation of materials.

Air. I sure hope that we don't get to the point where we have to manufacture air. In the meantime, installation and maintenance of plantings, forests, and parks for improved air quality is the only thing that comes to mind.

Water. Rain water catchment system manufacture and installation, low tech windmills for water pumping, passive solar/waste heat hot water heater construction and installation, water purification systems.

Clothing. Leather tannery, processing of agriculture products into yarn/thread, weaving mills, tailors, cobblers, processors of old cloth into new products.

Spirituality. Musicians, artists, and poets. There is a lot of overlap here with community.

Community. Managers of co-operative housing, quartermasters for tool banks, community kitchen managers, storytellers, teachers, managers of open spaces – forests, parks, and farms, community organizers, caregivers.

Please feel free to add some.