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Looking Beyond the Auto: The Future of Urban Farming in Detroit

Detroit - I was in Motown speaking at a city council meeting the day Detroit auto execs jetted into Washington to ask for the big bailout and were shown the door.

But the mood in Motor City was anything but death watch. The city that's become an icon for the best and worst days of the auto biz is getting ready to move on. They're on a new economy life watch down here.

If Detroit has the gumption for that, why should anyone across North America drink the auto-?bailout Kool-?aid and throw money at the most mismanaged sector of one of the most eco-?destructive industries?

By my observations, Detroit has the stuff to remake itself. In the first place, it's got religion in a way few Canadians would recognize. JoAnn Watson, presiding over this council meeting while the former mayor does time in the Big Garage for perjuring himself during a court hearing, carries herself like a political version of Oprah, with plenty of uplift and hope.

She opens the day by celebrating an honour roll of elementary school students - all African American, as are almost 90 per cent of the people in the city - and tells them that the spirit of Detroit will carry them forward, just like it says in the Bible. This is the old social gospel, not the evangelism of the sanctimonious few filled with fire and brimstone, especially against those who are different or down on their luck.

The tone Watson sets encourages one elderly woman in the crowd to stand up and say a three-?minute prayer naming all the city councillors and staff working to renew Detroit who deserve to be blessed by God. My labour history training helps me accept this. Woody Guthrie's union anthem that rocked Detroit 60 years ago - "You gotta go down that lonesome valley and join the union for yourself; nobody else can do it for you" - was itself taken from a hymn.

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