Today in Britain’s Daily Mail we read of the story of Kristine Diren and Micho “Detronik” McAdow who had bought a house on Detroit’s east side at auction for a paltry $500.00 only to find it had been demolished by mistake by Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority to eliminate blight affecting three local schools.
It’s a tale that begs a lot of questions, and which by chance a new book by Mark Binelli “The Last Days Of Detroit” is perfectly placed to answer.
Binelli’s wonderful book tells us the tragic tale of Detroit from its founding back in the 1701 as a French Fur post, through it’s glory days in the 1920’s as America’s fourth largest city. The car industry built the city up and even had otherwise sour old hacks in the east eulogising about it’s power. One, Anne O’Hare McCormack of the New York Times writing in 1934, gushed lyrically about it’s “ democratized luxuries with gas stations at every corner and chain stores …as truly a world capital as any city of earth.” In the 1950’s Detroit was hailed as the “city of tomorrow”.
How things have changed.
Today Detroit is a city people which are racing to leave. 25% of her population left between the census of 2000 and that of 2010 and they still go.
The car companies and capitalism that built the city and provided the jobs and wealth, have nowadays exported the jobs, shipping them out to foreign countries leaving the cities of the plains as husks. CEOs of companies once working in Detroit take (we cannot truly suggest “earn”) 180 times the salaries of their workforce, – where they still have them.
Corporate Amerika’s cannibalistic, unregulated, unchecked, reckless capitalism has resulted in a city that has failed. It is a sickness that is a canker at the heart of the American dream. In Detroit 90,000 properties are boarded up across 40 square miles. Vast swaths are simply ruins. A footprint of devastation which would encompass the whole of Paris. It is like the aftermath of the London Blitz, it is a war against America’s people.
Binelli has the journalist’s knack of finding the right informer, the perfect spokespersons. We learn therefore that, not to be left behind, the local Government in Detroit adds to the woes of the embattled survivors. Unemployment is at 50%. The schools are appalling. Street lights are turned off, and sewage systems disconnected to save money. A fire service is woefully provided for and the city has 90,000 fires either as arson or insurance scams. Beavers have returned to the streams in the city, and residents carry rape alarms to scare off the packs of local feral dogs that roam the deserted streets.
It is a J G Ballad view of urban implosion, a post-colonial African dystopia.
Binelli has a nice touch in phrasing, “urban prairie” and “ruin porn” for the articles the city seems to generate in place of motor vehicles. Detroit is now a destination for urban archaeologists (a large number from Scandinavia) who explore the wretched collapse for fun and write what he calls a “coffee-table book mini genre”.
There are those who see some light in this decay. Detroit today is the destination of America’s new frontiersmen and women. They are a rag bag of foodies, urban farmers, film makers, and dreamers like Kristine and Micho, who thought they had bought the home mentioned at the beginning of the piece.
Binelli is not strong on illustration so can I direct you to the web-site of Marchand and Meffre whose work is featured in the piece here. Their site is stunning, jaw-dropping and very thought provoking – well worth the click.
Copyright David Macadam 2013