Detroit: Is that you, friend? [Part I, Overview]

Colorfully abandoned building

Colorfully abandoned building

There’s an inherent correlation between psychology and geography, Detroit is such an example. The city’s landscape reflects the failure of American idealism–both physically and socially. Today, one third of the city, or more than 4,000 buildings lie derelict and abandoned (Shrinking Cities). With the exception of megastructures like the Darth Vadoresque Renaissance Center, buildings are quietly absorbed into the growing urban wilderness.

The Ren Cen

The Ren Cen

As downtown Detroit decays, the surrounding suburbs continue to develop and flourish, a geographical reality that reflects the deep racial divide that’s been brewing long before the mid 20th century race riots.

When you tell someone you are going home to Detroit the common response is simply, “I’m sorry.”

Although there is a lot to be sorry about, I’m not sorry about Detroit. Not today, not this summer. Detroit will outlive its current Rustbelt identity because it has poise. Like the women of my grandmother’s generation, Detroit is aging beautifully because it’s not afraid to wear history.

A decaying overpass

A decaying overpass

Lofts for sale

Lofts for sale

The wearing of history is what makes the city so photogenic. One need not be a good photographer to capture the mood of Detroit in 2009, every overgrown building, every discarded shoe along the freeway tells a story.

Detroit is the perfect example of Walter Benjamin’s dialectical image. We have both image and narrative: the image is the narrative, the narrative is the image. Similar to Passengwerk, Detroit “shows” instead of tells. Why is this? Perhaps it is because the dialogue is still too strong. Racial tensions, fear, failure…words…so, in the meantime, Detroit reminds us, with subtle force, that it will adapt, with or without humans.



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