They said if you voted for Mitt Romney Detroit would go bankrupt. So people voted for Barack Obama.
Now it turns out that Detroit may go bankrupt anyway. “Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder plans to put a state manager in charge of ending Detroit’s fiscal crisis, stripping power from officials of a withered city that in 1940 was the nation’s fourth biggest and a seat of industry.” The only thing that can save it now is other people’s money. It’s a possibility that can’t be ruled out.
NPR notes that Detroit is so deep in a hole they have to pipe the sunlight in — on installment.
Just how far gone is Detroit? Eric Lupher, director of local affairs for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, sums it up like this:
“The city could stop doing all of its current operations today — no more police and fire, no more garbage collection, no more street lights — and the city would still have billions of dollars of debt and promises made for future payments that it would have to pay.”
Yet Mark Binelli of New York Times has managed to portray the collapse of the city as some kind aesthetic triumph. He calls it the “world capital” of beautiful ruined buildings. Where else can you see whole city blocks of skyscrapers in smashed, burned and deserted condition except in movies with titles like “Omega Man” or “I am Legend” or “After Earth”? And in the movies they do it with CGI whereas in Detroit it’s all live action.
Binelli explains a point which may not have been obvious to the reader. It is only plain to the artist: the city is beautiful because it seems ugly.
now much of the attention being showered upon Detroit from the trendiest of quarters comes, in no small measure, thanks to the city’s blight. Detroit’s brand has become authenticity, a key component of which has to do with the way the city looks.
This is not exactly a question of gentrification; when your city has 70,000 abandoned buildings, it will not be gentrified anytime soon. Rather, it’s one of aesthetics. And in Detroit, you can’t talk aesthetics without talking ruin porn, a term that has become increasingly familiar in the city. Detroiters, understandably, can get touchy about the way descriptions and photographs of ruined buildings have become the favorite Midwestern souvenirs of visiting reporters.
Still, for all of the local complaints, outsiders are not alone in their fascination. My friend Phil has staged secret, multicourse gourmet meals, prepared by well-known chefs from local restaurants, in abandoned buildings like the old train station; John and his buddies like to play ice hockey on the frozen floors of decrepit factories. A woman who moved to Detroit from Brooklyn began to take nude photographs of herself in wrecked spaces (thrusting the concept of ruin porn to an even less metaphorical level). And Funky Sour Cream, an arts collective originally from New York, arranged an installation of little cupcake statues in the window of a long-shuttered bakery on Chene Street. A few days later, the bakery burned down. People debated whether or not this was a coincidence.
Perhaps the article is tongue in cheek, but if not then the bakery fire is probably not coincidence. It was probably intentionally set by the last sane man in Detroit.
One black lady managed to point out the downside of living in ruins at a talk the author attended. “During the question-and-answer period, a stylishly dressed African-American woman in her 50s stood up to make a contrarian point: that devotees of ruined buildings should be aware of the ways in which the objects of their affection left ‘retinal scars’ on the children of Detroit, contributing to a ‘significant part of the psychological trauma’ inflicted on them on a daily basis.”
“Retinal scars” — that’s a classic. How’s that related to the scars that have been gouged in the American landscape by the legions of those in search of aesthetics, themselves, their life destiny, in making a statement for passion, caring, understanding and all the other planks of liberal policy that led the city to dusty death?
“Retinal scars” was probably her polite way of telling the members of that refined audience that there was something of a downside to living in a dump. But whether that will dissuade artists whose idea of chic is having yourself photographed nude in a reasonable facsimile of Berlin, 1945 remains to be seen.
The gentleman below takes a rather more pedestrian view of things. His view is that Detroit is not the world capital of ruined buildings. Detroit is simply a dump. A grade-A, certified, genuine, honest to goodness aspiring landfill; a place where City Hall can’t even demolish derelicts faster than they are being created.
Of course if you’ve spent all your life in what used to be Motor City, you might of get used to things. This elderly man living in the ruins of a Packard plant is accompanied mostly by his memories. What does he remember? The America of his youth? What happened to Jack and Diane? Does he remember the good times? It’s proof that you can take a man out of an auto plant, but you can’t take the auto plant out of a man.