Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Honoring former Detroit mayor 'Potato Patch Pingree'

A monument to Pingree in Grand Circus Park
Long before Detroit's political scene enjoyed tales of text messages and Manoogian parties, there was Mayor Hazen S. Pingree. But when you compare his time in office in the late 1800s with the current challenges that face Mayor Dave Bing, it turns out not a lot has changed in Detroit.

Pingree, a Civil War veteran and founder of the largest shoe manufacturer in the West, was elected Mayor in 1889 on a campaign platform that centered on ending corruption in city paving contracts, sewer contracts, and the school board. He also fought hard to create a municipally owned streetcar system in Detroit. 

If you think those sound like news bits of today, none is as remarkably Bing-esque as Pingree's 'potato patch plan' during the Depression of 1893. Pingree, seeing some 25,000 Detroit men unemployed and large chunks of land sitting vacant in preparation for a forecasted real estate boom, initiated a plan that called for the planting of vegetables throughout the city to help feed Detroit's hungry. The plan was heralded nationwide as a huge success, which is perhaps a good omen for Bing's 'urban farming' model.

The 'potato patch plan' helped Pingree become Governor of Michigan in 1896, helped build his 'Idol to the People' reputation, and probably went a long way toward having a statue of him created and placed on Woodward in Grand Circus Park.