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Volunteers came out last Saturday in Detroit, Michigan to plant 15,000 trees as part of a revamp to turn an abandoned lot into an urban forest.

According to an article on Monroe News, entrepreneur John Hantz started the Woodlands projects, cleaning up 140 acres by knocking down 50 vacant homes to make way for saplings. He is a firm believer that urban forests can play an essential role in the city, which is currently under financial strain.

Around 1,200 residents drove to the site wearing gloves and dressed for planting to be part of the project. Hantz, the founder of Hantz Group offering financial services, offered hot dogs to the workers.

“It’s spectacular. It means a lot. This is a private venture. It shows if you have an idea and actually do it, you’ll get all kinds of help. In this city, you have to jump in the game,” Hantz was quoted in the article.

Around 15,000 holes were dug in the two fields that used to have family houses that are now “distressed neighbourhoods”. The site ClickOn Detroit featured the students as they joined the efforts to refurbish the area. The fields were planted with maple and oak saplings.

It is the hope of 53 year old Hantz to create these fields into a mini-forest in the middle of Detroit. The Hantz Woodlands Project on the east side calls for the cleanup of 140 acres of land and the razing of 50 vacant houses. “It aims to improve the face of the city and attract new residents and is separate from city-planned large-scale demolitions and other blight-eradication efforts,” the report said.

“I’ve lived here 20 years, and I’ve spent a lot of those years waiting for someone to do something,” Hantz was quoted by ClickOn. “It dawned on me: I’m going to quit complaining about it like everybody else and go try to do something.”

He estimates that he’s spent around $1 million buying the land from the city, clearing it and disposing of rubbish from the area. The saplings cost around $20,000.

Residents have been worried about what to do with estimated 20 square miles of “vacant, abandoned and underused land” that’s said to be size of Manhattan. The project follows the recommendations in the Detroit Future City plan, which “also looks at job creation, green space, transportation, growth and investment opportunities”.

Hantz Woodlands believes that “production of high-value horticultural crops needs to be re-integrated with urban economies”. “Food sheds containing a spectrum of small to large scale commercial ventures are envisioned. Achieving this goal will improve consumer access to key agricultural products.”

According to an article by Gus Burns on the MLive website, the land that Hantz purchased for around $450,000 were “essentially unwanted and contributing to blight because the city couldn’t afford to maintain them”. The company is hoping to clear the area from rubbish by the end of the year.

Laura Berman from Detroit News said Hantz encountered resistance from various people and organisations when he first introduced his concept because of concerns that this would end up being a land grab tactic. But many residents backed his plan and many showed up to help plant the saplings.

It was in 2009 when Hantz first relayed his plans to create “the world’s largest urban farm”. But because of opposition, he changed it to plant trees instead.

“This isn’t completely altruistic. If I don’t see it become something, I think my daughter will,” Hantz told Detroit news.

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