Monday, June 25, 2012

Visit to Detroit

Blighted Home

American Flag painting on bodega's wall reflecting on Car

Cultural anthropology lured me to Detroit. My visit inspired by "ruin porn," photographic images of the deserted industrial landscape and my interest in the fading of The American Dream made Detroit fertile ground for a visual exploration. The blight in Detroit is the result of neglect and abandonment, not a natural disaster or flood triggered by crumbling infrastructure as was the case in New Orleans. As jobs in Detroit's automobile factories dried up, the city started its descent from bustling metropolis to industrial wasteland. Today Detroit is on the brink of financial collapse. Miles and miles of blighted neighborhoods overpower pockets of urban renewal that include hip restaurants, community gardens and an active art scene. 

Fischer Factory
 The Packard automative Plant has become a Mecca for graffiti artists and a tourist attraction. It is slated to be torn down in the summer of 2012. The natives, however, won't believe it until it happens; many blighted buildings have been set for demolition yet remain standing. Inside the sprawling compound where General Motors once spewed out cars is an environment in flux. The compound's structures are in various states of decay. Floor after floor in building after building, artwork covers the walls. Wind and the echoing voices of people exploring the ruins rustle through the empty spaces.

A bright spot in the landscape is the Heidelberg Project, a folk art installation that takes up two city blocks. Artist Tyree Guyton started the Project in 1986, using  homes, some habitable and some not, as his canvas. You come upon the Project as you're driving through East Detroit, a particularly tough part of the city. The brightly painted homes are a breath of fresh air, a sharp contrast to the nearby burnt-out structures and lots full of debris. The lots within the Project are hull of paintings on panels and playful sculptures, some made of stuffed animals. 

During my visit to Detroit I got a dose of local politics. People were talking about the fact that Detroit may become one of the first major American cities to be governed by an emergency manager, essentially privatizing all public services and taking away the citizens' vote in any decisions about the city's future. Emergency managers have been appointed in other Michigan cities, with unfavorable results. What happens in Detroit next will set a precedent for other American cities that have fallen on hard times. Will failing cities be on the action block for corporate takeover, or will they be given a chance to reinvent themselves, a longtime American tradition?

Check out my story and photo slide show on the Atlantic's website  
and set of photos on Flickr

Upstairs in Lee Plaza
Chase bank/ Blighted home
Plackard Plant
Occupy Detroit Protest against Bank of America
Upstairs inside the Placard Plant

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for capturing a slice of Occupy Detroit on your visit. Yes we are working diligently against the loss of democracy that the State of Michigan is pushing through their Emergency Managers. Check out Vote VIP Slate - the Very Important Proposals in Michigan, and we're starting from Detroit.