Wednesday, March 18, 2009
A couple of tidbits regarding the disaster known as Detroit MI have caught my eye lately.
That Detroit has been in decline for decades is certainly not news. Back in the 80s, an effort at urban renewal, centered around Renaissance Center, bloomed in the downtown area, but nothing much came of it. Years of job losses, political corruption, mismanagement, and general decay have left the city an urban wasteland of epic proportions. While there are still affluent suburbs aplenty, the core is a disaster unequaled in the developed world.
A series of photos of abandoned buildings of all sorts was published recently published as a Time magazine photo essay. The only clean-up done in some of Detroit's once-stately hotels and other buildings has been done by looters. The pictures, taken by a couple of French photographers, are haunting.
But, out of this blight, something is emerging. A small group of artists have bought badly distressed housing for ridiculously low prices ($100 for a house and land?) and are renovating, wiring up to solar power, planting gardens, and making something out of less than nothing. It's reminiscent of the reemergence of Manhattan's SoHo and TriBeCa neighborhoods, where the avant garde began squatting in abandoned warehouses and factories and, over years and years, turned blight into a trendy, popping place-to-be.
We've seen similar efforts right here in Dallas - the West End, Deep Ellum, and Exposition Park spring to mind immediately. The degree of success has varied, and the long-term viability of all these areas is still somewhat in question, but the attempts have been made.
Will the same thing happen in Detroit? Hard to say. There are obvious, huge distinctions - as bad as SoHo was, it was still mere blocks from Midtown, which never decayed to the same extent. The devastation in Detroit may well be too far along to reverse.
Nevertheless, it is fascinating to watch an area die out, and few hardy souls attempt to bring it back.