‘Knight Cities’ podcast: Sowing Detroit’s future in the fertile ground of vacant lots

Erin Kelly

Like so many cities where manufacturing once dominated the local economy, Detroit has a lot of vacant land. What to do with that land is the focus of some exciting new work by Erin Kelly.

Knight Cities podcast

Erin is program manager of Innovative Landscapes, an initiative of Detroit Future City. Next week the group plans to release a beautiful, smart set of step-by-step guides to replanting and reusing Detroit’s vacant lots, but my conversation with Erin offers a preview. Here are five things you should know from our conversation:

1. “A Field Guide for Working With Lots” provides hands-on tools for people to participate in land transformation in Detroit.

2. The guide provides step-by-step instructions for 34 options for planting vacant lots, from a “Party Lot” to the “Infiltrator” (a giant rain garden).

3. Detroit, like many cities, is trying to learn better responses to storm water management. The act of planning for and planting vacant lots is one way for citizens and the city to accelerate their learning.

4. The removal of deteriorated buildings in Detroit is being paired with a diversified land stewardship program, where land can be transferred to residents and block groups. “Without a steward, we are authoring another liability — which is unmanaged land,” Erin says.

5. Find “A Field Guide” at, and learn more about Detroit Future City at

Listen to my conversation with Erin here. And sign up for the “Knight Cities” newsletter to get alerts as soon as new conversations are posted.

Look for new “Knight Cities” content posted every week. You can follow us on Twitter at #knightcities or @knightfdn. And if you have ideas for people you’d like to hear from, please email me.

Carol Coletta is vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @ccoletta.

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