Project: The Culture Now Project: Productive Landscapes
Location: Flint, MI
Designer: Layton Petersen
Year: 2011
Program: University of California, Los Angeles
Faculty Advisors: Thom Mayne, Karen Lohrmann

Project Description: Converting blight into a city wide productive landscape.

The city has the highest crime rate in the United States. It has lost half of its population since 1960. The automotive manufacturing industry that once supported the city is all but gone. The city has six police officers for every 100,000 people. One-third of the city has been abandoned. However, Flint has a number of large foundations with over five billion dollars in combined assets committed to helping the local population. It has major educational institutions. It has an excess of vacant urban land. It has well-connected highway and rail infrastructure. It is in the center of Michigan, the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, with an agro-industry that generates sixty billion dollars for the state economy. Flint’s social, economic, and cultural assets lie in its agricultural potential and the recycling of post-industrial wasteland into productive landscapes.

The territory Flint occupies is too large, with too little population to fill it. The city is transforming into a town, but the urban spaces opened up by de-population have the potential to be the most valuable. Flint’s new empty spaces range in size from quarter-acre suburban lots to the two hundred acre Buick City automotive manufacturing site, creating a complex fabric of urban vacancy. The Genesee County Land Bank, one of the first in the nation, manages over ten thousand foreclosed homes and vacant lots around Flint, tearing down empty houses and selling under-utilized lots for private and public use at a fraction of their original cost.

Flint’s new agricultural economy is developed over three distinct phases: Ecological Remediation, Agricultural Education, and Agricultural Production. Phase one, Remediation, uses modified Poplar trees to clean polluted soil. Phase two, Education, trains a qualified agricultural workforce, and phase three, Production, transforms Flint’s surplus of space into an economic asset by developing micro- and macro-scaled agriculture on Flint’s empty land.

Flint’s value lies at the regional scale. Its new Productive Landscapes can feed over five million people, easily meeting the food demand of central Michigan while developing local economies of production and distribution.

Project Background: This project is one of eight proposals presented under the 2010-2011 UCLA MArch II Suprastudio. From August 2010 to June 2011, Thom Mayne, Design Director of Morphosis, Karen Lohrmann, and a group of advisors have been leading fourteen post graduate architecture and urban design graduate students in an inquiry about the dynamics of culture now. The project is going forward next year to include thirteen other universities with the hope of creating an extensive discussion about contemporary culture and the nature of American cities. Additional work and information is available for download on the suprastudio website.

Image Captions:
Image 1: City Analysis: Analysis of the geography, city image, cultural climate, and local leadership forms a strange network of possibilities.

Image 2: Vacancy Types: Flint has an abundance of vacant land categorized as park, residential, and industrial properties.
Image 3: Filling the void: Each vacancy type is associated with an appropriate type of agricultural production. City parks become dense forest, residential properties become low-yield urban gardens, and industrial lots become high-yield green houses.
Image 4: Forests, Farms, Greenhouses: The three types of agriculture transform the image of Flint.
Image 5: 21st Century Arcadia: Void spaces mapped throughout Flint fill with agriculture.
Image 6: Residential production: A house converted into a productive field.
Image 7: Regional production: Flint’s vacancy becomes a productive food hub capable of feeding neighboring cities within the region.