The city of Detroit has more vacant land than any large urban area in the world. Perhaps it should look to Brazil for inspiration on how to solve this dilemma.
The city of Detroit has more vacant land and abandoned property than any large urban area in the world. Over the years, many experts have come up with all kinds of ideas and suggestions on how to energize the city that gave birth to both the moving assembly line and Motown music.
The other day, Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s controversial mayor, suggested that all new U.S. immigrants be sent to live in Detroit for five- or 10-year periods. He believes that would invigorate and revitalize the Motor City, which has lost more than 25 percent of its population during the last decade.
Another recent idea involves plowing up some of Detroit’s 40 square miles of desolate vacant lots to create the world’s largest urban farm. Hantz Farms LLC is currently working with agronomists from Michigan State University to reclaim 70 acres of underutilized vacant land on Detroit’s lower east side.
“Detroit could be the nation’s leading example of urban farming,” says John Hantz, a local entrepreneur and multimillionaire who actually lives in Detroit. “[Farming] will transform this [land] into a viable, beautiful and sustainable area that will serve the community, increase the tax base, create jobs and greatly improve the quality of life in an area that has experienced a severe decline in population.”
Bloomberg and Hantz both have some intriguing ideas. But, I’ll throw my own into the ring. I believe Detroit should look to Brazil for inspiration. How about turning the urban jungles of Detroit into an international assembly zone similar to Manaus, a thriving city in northern Brazil that boasts a population of 2 million people?
Ironically, back in the mid-1960s, when Detroit’s much-publicized problems began, the Brazilian government established a duty-free trade district in Manaus, which at the time was a small provincial town located deep in the Amazon jungle. Companies that operate facilities there are entitled to various types of tax breaks and generous reductions in import-export tariffs.
The Manaus Free Trade Zone transformed the area into an economic powerhouse. Today, many leading manufacturers, such as Denso, Electrolux, Flextronics, General Electric, Harley-Davidson, Honda, NCR, Nokia, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Sony and Whirlpool, operate assembly lines in the Manaus Industrial Sector that employ thousands of people.
If this idea can work in the middle of a rainforest, couldn’t it work in the middle of Detroit?