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Light Research @ MMU

The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative’s Christmas Lights in Detroit

On a cold February day in Detroit, buried underneath a foot of snow, a systematic arrangement of red flags was just about visible on the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative’s (MUFI) primary agricultural production field. The red flags act as a series of waypoints to guide streams of Christmas lights across the field; a field that was once a bustling residential location but is now overwhelmed by the uncontrollable return of nature to the city. The lights used were technically simplistic and were wired up to a house that acts as an operational headquarters which, unlike the majority of houses in the neighbourhood, was connected to mains electricity. The luminous streams of various colours would eventually come together to form the letter ‘D’ for ‘Detroit’ that not only echoes the pride of place that many Detroiters feel, but also maintains a connection and visibility between MUFI and the neighbourhood.MUFI by daylight

On a winter’s day, this site lies dormant; only the infrastructural components of farming activity are noticeable, propped up against the high-rises of Midtown that are clearly visible against the sparsely-housed neighbourhood in the foreground. However, by night this space is illuminated; used in an innovative way to not only reassure the neighbourhood that they are not forgotten about during the off-season, but also to raise awareness and gain the attention of passers-by to the communal activity of urban agriculture. The incandescence of the Christmas lights is juxtaposed against the formidable dark of the night-time that continues to stalk increasingly large numbers of neighbourhoods throughout the city, as a ‘responsible reduction’ of street light usage becomes endemic to the cityscape.

Detroit illuminated

There is an ever-developing battle between Detroit residents and the city as public street lighting continues to be shut down by austerity measures that plunge the city into a darkness that can only be escaped by means of these Christmas lights. Significantly, community agricultural initiatives provide the infrastructural means through which the darkness can be overcome, providing lighting to benefit the neighbourhood residents who, according to the New York Times, are becoming evermore reluctant to leave their homes by night for fear of crime. The lights give the space a positive function and a renewed perception of place in Detroit. Posted by William Roberts, postgraduate student at currently  is a Durham University Geography Master’s
(Picture of illumination of lights courtesy of Tyson Gersh:


May 13th, 2014 - 09:03am

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