Motor City Green puts the city’s current moment in a larger context by showing that urban gardening has a long history in Detroit. Artfully drawing connections between rusty industrial spaces with lush urban green spaces, Cialdella shows readers how the two are inherently related rather than opposed.
In Detroit Pastoral, Joseph Cialdella explores a central question that resulted in his manuscript. Why did Detroiters from so many walks of life frequently create gardens and green space during periods of industrial growth and decline? It began shortly after the first economic panic hit Detroit in 1893. Then Mayor Hazen Pingree put together a municipally-sponsored plan to use vacant lots outside the city limits for vegetable gardens cultivated by unemployed residents for their own use. Fast forward 130 years. When African American migrants moved into Detroit during the 1920s they took advantage of the vacant lots and grew their own food. In the 1960s African Americans pushed for equitable access of parks and green space. They shaped and fought for the cultural lines of race and class. Detroit Pastoral looks to the past to demonstrate how today’s urban gardens in Detroit evolved from, but are also distinct from, other urban gardens and green spaces in the City’s past.
Motor City Green is the most comprehensive published history of parks or urban agriculture in Detroit. Since the historiography of urban agriculture remains relatively underdeveloped, Cialdella’s book should attract more attention to the topic within the fields of urban history and urban environmental history.