Urban Agriculture and the Future of U.S. Rust Belt Cities: The Example of Detroit, Michigan

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Adam J. Mathews, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kathleen Baker, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Lucius Hallett, Ph.D.

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Abstract Only

Restricted to Campus until



Since the 1970s, the Rust Belt cities of the United States have undergone major economic turmoil and subsequent change. In Detroit, Michigan specifically, deindustrialization resulted in population loss, reduced property values and abandonment of homes. However, the release of vast amounts of vacant land can be an opportunity to explore urban agriculture to achieve food security and sustainability. This research has aimed to identify the contribution of urban agriculture in Detroit’s green landscape from 2000 to 2020. Also, future land vacancies and opportunities of urban agriculture have been explored. Remote sensing images were collected from the National Agricultural Image Program (NAIP) for the years of 2010, 2016, and 2020 and were analyzed for changes in greenness using object-based change detection. In addition, 2009 and 2017 light detection and ranging (lidar) data were used to separate agricultural crops/plants/shrubs (6 feet or less) from tree canopy. Results suggest that although there has been an increase in urban greenness (6 feet or less) in Detroit from 50.61 square miles to 53.86 square miles, the contribution of urban farming is not significant (0.06 square miles). However, the city’s land vacancy reached up to 4% of total area which can be an opportunity for farming. Finally, this research can act as a guideline to other changing cities to analyze the potential to introduce urban agriculture.

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