Much has been written about the sad state of Detroit today. I think that much of what's being written misses several key factors in Detroit's decline. It's a common misconception that Detroit is suffering because the US auto industry is suffering. Detroit, for the most part is a creation of the US auto industry and the auto industry turned it's back on Detroit a long time ago. The US auto industry has had many good years since it started abandoning the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile Detroit's population and fortunes have been declining consistently since around 1950. It was the car and the US auto industry as much as anything that killed Detroit. Flight to the suburbs in new cars on new freeways, the movement of auto manufacturing to southern states and overseas... these things have contributed to Detroit's decline as much or more than foreign competition and mismanagement, etc. The US auto industry has profited from these trends and has been in many ways responsible for these trends.
The city of Detroit was designed around the US auto industries' products (cars). But the cars Detroit was designed for were the cars of the 1920s-1940s. They were slow and unreliable and at the time, families could rarely afford more than one. Improvements in auto and truck technology have since made Detroit functionally obsolete. The thriving new exurbs around Detroit are designed for the cars of today. This also partially explains why the city of Detroit has been abandoned by most everyone with the means to leave. The last thing often left out of discussions about Detroit's decline is the fact that Detroit was victimized by the worst excesses of urban renewal projects from the 1940s through the 70s. New freeways sliced the city to pieces. Modernist housing projects were built all over the city. These and many other planing and design missteps were tearing apart the fabric of Detroit's neighborhoods long before the auto industry fell on hard times.
The Heidelberg Project (above and below) is one of my favorite things about Detroit. Artist Tyree Guyton has been turning his neighborhood into living sculpture since 1986. Mr. Guyton started the project as a way of taking back his neighborhood from the encroaching blight, violence and despair of 1980s Detroit. Mr. Guyton uses abandoned homes near his house as canvases, adding color and enlivening his otherwise bleak neighborhood in Northeast Detroit. It's wonderful to come across these playfully decorated houses after driving through blocks and blocks of the grim city. Mr. Guyton has gotten children and other neighbors involved in the decorating of the houses making it a community rather than strictly personal project. The city did not support Mr. Guyton's neighborhood improvement project for the first 15 or more years of it's existence. Detroit spent money demolishing at least 6 of the Heidelberg houses in the 1990s. That the city would prioritize demolishing these houses over the countless other abandoned buildings seems misguided, stupid or worse. Recently 6 of the Heidelberg houses have been destroyed by arsonists (2013-14). The pictures here were taken in 2010 during the Heidelberg Street block party which I ran into completely by chance.
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