Last Sunday’s Observer had an insightful and tragic article on the slow decline of one of the most iconic cities in the USA, if not the world. Detroit. Highlighting not just the hardship that the recession has wrought on the long suffering working class of the city, but also the damage now being inflicting the once prosperous suburban districts, scene of the ‘white flight’ that left inner city Detroit a unique wasteland. This wasteland has now taken on an almost post-apocalyptic quality, with some abandoned skyscprapers now sprouting plants and vines, mimicking something out I Am Legend. A truly surreal state. So it’s no surprise the the Internet is at the forefront of documenting this slow decline.One site in particular captures the essence of fallen Detroit. 100 Abandoned Houses. In the “about” blurb of the site, one thing really stood out for me.
“In these neighborhoods I encountered concerned citizens, packs of wild dogs, 20 foot high piles of toilets, and houses with the facades torn off, filled with garbage.”
Simply composed, the photos vividly bring to life the desolation which we are well aware of, but surprisingly, the unique architecture and construction of many of these houses. This was not a city of idealised white picket fences, but of distinctive personalities of a boldness and confidence in the strength of American Industry, bought to life in the facades of these homes. This juxtaposition to their current state adds another level of poignancy to the collection, mirroring the desolation of heavy industry and car production in Detroit and Michigan. They also demand you dig deeper into Detroit architecture.
A dig round Flickr and the blogsphere reveals a plethora of sets and posts dedicated to capturing the city decay. Flickr especially shows off the majestic Art Deco buildings built in the flush of the car boom. While the numerous blogs serve as honest, angry and hopeful public service announcements for the city. Refusing to let it’s plight fade from view, these efforts, as a collective, show how well the internet can act as a mobiliser of action in real time. Their voices from the trenches give you hope that the city might yet find it’s own redemption. Unfortunately, the near future of Detroit is as bleak as it is for many industrial cities around the globe, unable, or unwilling to deal with a transitions in industry and labour markets, an anachronism in a fiercely competitive, globalised world. You can only hope that the city makes it through, and that the bold, quintessentially American attitudes that these buildings represented will flourish once again.