It’s just another day in Detroit on just another street. People trickle in and out of front doors on what was once a tightly packed row of houses. Today, some are occupied, while others are empty shells or vacant lots. Having lost over half of its population in the last 60 years, Detroit has an overabundance of empty houses, office buildings, theaters, and hotels. Starting in 2010, demolition crews began tearing down 3,000 buildings that the city had deemed dangerous. An estimated 10,000 buildings are scheduled to be razed over the next few years. By clearing out structures that cannot be saved, the city is hoping to erase years of neglect and abandonment, and give Detroit a chance for rebirth.
In an attempt to beautify areas of demolition, Michigan residents are starting to take action. Occupying 6 vacant lots on Oakland Street in Detroit’s North End neighborhood are 6 raised beds filled with rich black compost and nearly 8,000 flower bulbs. These new gardens are the vision and implementation of Bloom Town Detroit, a grassroots organization whose mission is to bring hope and beauty back to the community.
Soil preparation and planting for the project began this September and by spring these once desolate spots will be filled with crocuses and tulips in shades of purple, from lavender to deep violate. As the seasons change, so will the flowers. Once the spring plants die back, Bloom Town will replenish the gardens with a new color series of monochromatic annuals and perennials.
“I am deeply interested in the history of gardens (both stylistically and politically), the history of Detroit, and the potential of gardens to change the way we see and/or occupy the world,” said Ellen Donnelly, Bloom Town Founder and Director, who started thinking about transforming vacant lots in Detroit into monochromatic gardens shortly after her first visit to the city five years ago.
Bloom Town’s gardens are designed to mark and map once existing structures, and to show this, the blooms will outline and fill the walls and windows of conceptual homes.
“The layout of the gardens emerged from the initial concept of planting a garden within the foundation walls of a house. Dealing with budget constraints, I quickly learned that given my resources I would be unable to excavate and plant six gardens,” said Donnelly. “Instead, I decided that I would conceptually build a house of flowers by articulating the first floor plan of a house [which is] based on the memory of a house that I was once in, in Detroit. This memory-house does not lament the past, but seeks to engage its inhabitants in alternative domestic landscapes.”
Bloom Town hopes that the gardens will build an awareness and a presence in the urban fabric and increase the flow of movement through and around Oakland Street with those interested in seeing the project. The gardens are intended to be sanctuaries of calm, and places of gathering and activity, bringing life and color to the area.
“Overall, I think we have received a positive response from the community. At first, many of the local residents thought we were planting vegetable gardens and were disappointed to learn that our gardens would only yield swaths of color in the form of flowers, but over time, I think the idea of flower gardens has been more accepted to the point where people are looking forward to watching the flowers emerge and the chromatic transition of the gardens.”
Over the weekend, I volunteered with Bloom Town on the corner of Oakland and Marston. Neighbors came to see what all of the digging was about. A few picked up a shovel or planted a bulb, excited to get a little dirty and eager to help bring life back to their community. Starting this March, more volunteers will be needed on a weekly basis for spring cleaning on the sites, weeding, watering the flowers, and preparing for the next round of planting. Individuals interesting in helping or looking for more information on the project should visit www.bloomtowndetroit.org.
(photos by: erin)