forerunners of micro-nurtured tomorrows

In Detroit, the city so overgrown in places it’s been declared an urban prairie, a landscaper is returning people’s yards to nature, but beautifully.

Tom Milano, a 60yr old Detroiter, makes his living from building lush landscapes from native plants.  Though for him it seems to be less about making a living, and more about living according to his values.  Associating with the Hare Krishna temple near his house, he and his partner also garden and landscape unused land around them in the city, creating homes and spaces for the indigenous plants animals and insects to return and live in a healthy way:  “So the more indigenous plants you get, the more you’re kind of restoring the balance of wildlife in your own way.

They both eat from their gardens – which in other settings would be the fruits of foraging, like Cattails and milkweed pods- and are writing a vegan cookbook.

An important aspect of what he is doing, however, is social:  as well as promoting beauty amid blight, his efforts enable area kids to experience nature as an ecosystem, a living thing to be valued and protected.

“They’ll come with jars. They go around too and catch the insects and butterflies. I say ‘no no, here it’s a sanctuary. Everything lives, and you just kind of protect it.’”

He said he did it to teach them about respecting nature and private property, “and that’s what happened.”

This is amazing to me – Detroit has long been an interest of mine – first for the acres of abandoned neighbourhoods and the extent of their succumbing to overgrowth.

Photographs by James D. Griffioen

Not being so familiar with the city proper, as my knowledge of comes from from obsessive reading about its most blighted areas, I am not familiar with the demographics of Lennox ave, the base from which Tom works.

There must be some wealth there, for people to hire a landscaper, in contrast to farming between double-chain link fences, or sitting on your porch with a shotgun waiting for the drugdealers to show up and try to run your neighbourhood.  (There are some amazing people featured on Detroit Blog. For a detailed background of the trials this city has faced over the last century, I recommend Julian Temple’s very good BBC Documentary Requiem For Detroit ).

I have been fascinated by those who are still there, getting by.  They are the survivors, in an at times lawless and violent frontier. There are many many stories of people that are dealing with a crazy-making level of violence and violation daily, yet are sustained by their faith, their friends, or their memories.

They make up a community that gives me hope for the future, more than top-down “green” solutions or schemes for economic recovery amidst failure. I believe in the resilience of the abandoned, more than the greening or adaptation of those who have never experienced life outside privilege.

(Check out Glendale Stewart‘s example of resilience! Though he is more solitary, as he is billed on the blog, he operates in near-complete independence from existing infrastructures. I’m totally impressed with this guy. Or Mary King and her son, farming chickens on the lots of the empty apartment buildings next door.)

People like Tom Milano may not operate in the most desperate areas, but the way he goes about nurturing his surroundings, one garden and child at a time, gives testament that getting by can also mean healing our rift with nature, and learning once again to love the land, and help it to recover.


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