A New Urban Garden Opens in Downtown Detroit

Detroit-based software company Compuware has completed construction on an urban vegetable garden in the empty space where the condemned Lafayette Building once stood. The downtown garden, called Lafayette Greens, was planted by a team of 15-20 volunteers and expert gardeners. Compuware founder Peter Karmanos devised the idea for the garden, believing that it would be a good way to get his employees, most of whom live in the suburban Detroit metro area, more involved and invested in the urban community where they work. The garden is expected to produce its first harvest in August. Volunteers who tend the garden, including Compuware employees, are entitled to a share of its crops, while the rest will be donated to the city’s Gleaners Food Bank. In an interview with Model D Media, Compuware employee and garden manager Meg Heeres said that the company began executing their idea by “interviewing our employees, asking if they would be involved with it. The proximity [to their office] seemed to be very important to everyone.” She also stated that the city-owned plot “was sort of a perfect site because the Lafayette Building had just come down, and it sort of created a hole in this downtown corridor.”

Among the crops in the organic garden are cucumbers, tomatoes, apple trees, peach trees, leafy greens such as cabbage and kale, beans, winter green tomatoes, rhubarb and herbs. Though Compuware’s goal is to grow an edible landscape, the three-quarter acre plot also includes lavender and perennial flowers. The garden has raised beds supported by galvanized sheet metal as well as colorful galvanized pots, which sit on a circular cement patio. Raised bed gardening is an efficient method, as it allows plants to be spaced closer together to increase crop production, and allows for the monitoring and differing of soil types to accommodate the needs of different plants. Raised beds also have better drainage than traditional garden beds, reducing the chance of overwatering, which can be fatal to plants. A children’s garden with a gallery wall, a rainwater tank, a tool shed, and seating for events round out the garden.

Downtown Detroit has long suffered from an economic downturn and a severe population decline, resulting from rising crime rates, among other factors. Many vacant buildings are a danger to public safety, as they can harbor gangs and increase the community’s crime rate. Like many Motor City buildings, the Lafayette Building, which was boarded up in 1997, has a storied history that ultimately resulted in its sad decline. The triangular building was erected in 1924 by architect C. Howard Crane, who also designed the Fox and United Artists theatres downtown; Crane’s unique V-shaped design, marble and bronze accents, and ample windows that allowed natural light to shine through and provide an uplifting workspace all allowed the building to be considered one of the greatest high-rise office buildings in Detroit. Past tenants of the building have included the federal court, nonprofit groups and other small businesses and restaurants. The Lafayette Building suffered from the city’s population decline — catalyzed by the 1967 riots — as well as thousands of dollars in unpaid bills by tenants, and after falling into disrepair in the 1960s, the building was finally torn down in 2009.

Compuware plans to open another garden on the site of the former Hudson department store building, also in downtown Detroit. The two gardens, which will both be tended by the company’s employees, join more than 875 urban gardens and farms that currently provide nourishment for Detroiters. These urban paradises have sprung out of a critical need to offer food security to the city’s residents, many of whom struggle with poverty and hunger. Though Compuware is not part of the green job sector, its garden is an admirable effort to grow organic food in an unlikely setting and to help revive a struggling city.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/brostad/4750716869/

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