Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Detroit Renaissance

William Livingstone House, designed by architect Albert Kahn, was demolished in 2010. Image Source: Urban and Transportation News.

'Detroit Renaissance' is a term that has been kicked around since the early 1970s. The expression may finally live up to its promise. With all the doom and gloom about the economy, it's hard to find any promise for the future. Detroit seemed a harbinger and poster child for this downturn, and was stuck in a relentless decline over several decades. But times change. In the last couple of days, some reports have circulated that Detroit is set to undergo a massive renaissance in the next five years. American automobile makers face an uphill climb, with well-publicized problems, but they may turn the corner in the Motor City. From Auto Observer:
Detroit-based automakers will hire more than 30,000 new workers in the next four years, reversing years of declining employment in the ranks of Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and the Chrysler Group LLC, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor group for the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. Data from CAR indicate total employment of the Detroit Three automakers will increase from today’s 171,000 to 201,000 by 2015 and that auto-industry suppliers will need to add from 100,000 to 150,000 new workers over the same period. But the research group’s projected 2015 total employment figure for the Detroit automakers still pales in comparison to the industry’s heyday. In the late 1970s, the Detroit Three employed more than 1 million workers in the United States.
This is a story of Millennial hope. Detroit's decline was one of the saddest stories of industrial collapse in the late twentieth century United States.

Detroit crime wave, March 21 to May 21, 2010. Image Source: Economic Misery and Crime Waves.
Daily Life (17/08/2009) © by Luca Santese.

Caption for the above photograph, taken by Italian photographer Luca Santese for Cesuralab: Mary, a single mother, lives with her son in downtown Detroit. Her family lives out of town and visits her rarely because they are afraid of problems with crime. Detroit tops the list of America's most dangerous cities, with 1,220 violent crimes per 100,000 people. Crime is particularly prevalent in downtown areas. Since the 1960s, there has been a steady exodus of those who can afford it to the suburbs.

Urbex photographers, or urban explorers, have chronicled the decay of institutions, factories and infrastructure in many developed countries over the past twenty years. They've seen strange sights, but their pictures of Detroit are in a class by themselves.  In 2011, two young French photographers, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, published a photographic catalogue of the economically ravaged city for Time magazine. (All photos immediately below are copyrighted by Marchand and Meffre and reproduced here under Fair Use for discussion and review only.)

Michigan Central Station.

Bagley-Clifford Office of the National Bank of Detroit.

United Artists Theater.

East Methodist Church.

Luben Apartments.

Vanity Ballroom.

Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel.

Jane Cooper Elementary School, Spring 2008.

Jane Cooper Elementary School, Spring 2009.

Packard Motors Plant.

Fisher Body 21 Plant.

These ruins go on for miles and miles and miles. You can see Marchand's and Meffre's site here and Time's story on them here. The Ruins of Detroit took them five years to complete. The Guardian reported on their project:
Having photographed old buildings – "mainly disused theatres" – in Paris, they happened upon an image of Michigan Central train station in Detroit while surfing the internet for pictures of abandoned buildings. "It was so stately and so dramatic that we decided right then we had to go," says Meffre, "but we were naive; we had no idea of the scale of the project, of the vastness of downtown Detroit and its ruins. There is nothing comparable in Europe."

The essayist Edmund Wilson wrote of Detroit in the 1930s: "You can see here, as it is impossible to do in a more varied and complex city, the whole structure of industrial society." Back then, Detroit was the world capital of car production, the place where, in 1913, Henry Ford had built the first plant devoted to mass production, employing 90,000 workers in order to make enough Model T Fords to meet the demands of a burgeoning domestic market. The city's architecture reflected its wealth and ambition: the waiting room of Michigan Central station was designed to look like a giant Roman bathhouse, ballrooms were built in extravagantly baroque styles that equalled anything in New York.

By the 1950s, the city was home to almost 2 million people, and its mainly single-storey suburbs had spread over 120 square miles. Detroit's dramatic decline began soon afterwards, though, and those same suburbs would play their part in the long saga of abandonment and decay. The collapse of the automobile industry started in the 1950s and reached crisis point in the 1960s and 1970s, due mainly to the demand for cheaper imported cars, made mainly in Japan, and the attendant rise in global oil prices. By then, Detroit was, in the words of Thomas J Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, who provides the book's illuminating introductory essay, "one of America's most racially polarised cities, the result of deep-rooted hostilities between the city's white and African-American populations".
Anything that would relieve the city's pain and set it on the path to prosperty again would heal something deep inside America's broken heart. Conditions in the city got so desperate in 2010 and 2011 that the mayor, Dave Bing, offered to sell refurbished grand houses to public sector workers, especially policemen, for $1,000 each to draw citizens back to the city's abandoned neighbourhoods.

Now, with recovery for the city potentially on the horizon, there is a chance for property developers to profit while also making thousands of abandoned houses liveable again. From a Guardian report: "'Detroit has some of the nicest housing stock in the country. Brick, marble, hardwood floors, leaded glass. These houses were built for kings ... . We gave a $90,000 house to a lady who was living in a car. She had four children. It didn't cost her a dime. We had over a thousand people apply for it. It's probably worth $35,000 now.'" Two days ago, a former lumber baron's home sold for $1.  If there is one place where opportunities and hope could be returning, it's Detroit.  That's something local people haven't been able to say for fifty years.

Frederick Butler House at 291 Edmund Place in Woodward East Historic District, Detroit, restored 2008. Image Source: Wiki.

Imported from Detroit (February 2011) Eminem Super Bowl XLV ad for the Chrysler 200. Video Source: Youtube.

See my other posts on Detroit, here and here.

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