Detroit: a photo-essay on urban decay

Detroit represents the shortcoming of American-style, car centric urban development. Wide highways slashed through decaying neighborhoods now serve a city devoid of people in many parts. In a city that lost 60% of its population since its 1950 height, extensive infrastructure designed to serve millions of people now serves only thousands. After Detroit’s July 1967 riots, over 200,000 whites fled Detroit in fewer than five years. Now over 50,000 homes lie vacant and decaying.
During WWII, Detroit was dubbed “the arsenal of democracy” for all the military equipment that rolled out of its auto factories. Planes from Detroit went on to bomb European cities. In a form of fitting, yet ironic, justice Detroit, too, has been bombed. Except this time, it’s a city destroyed from within by the same consumer society that erected this metropolis.

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Attempts to rectify Detroit’s fallen status often fall short of success. Everywhere there are fields of surface parking lots, where there once businesses, people, and wealth. A near-empty monorail system circles an eerily quiet downtown. Downtown is a skyscraper graveyard full rotting Art Deco architectural gems and empty storefronts. Renaissance Center soars above downtown, secluded from the aging and indebted city. The imposing appearance of the nearby Greektown Casino abuts the equally ominous city jail. Suburban residents travel to Detroit for sports games at Comerica Field; they return afterwards by car to their safe and quiet and white communities.

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Detroit represents flaws in American culture across levels: government policies that encouraged suburban development at the expense of cities; corporations that developed America’s love of car culture; planners who designed cities and city life around the car. Most of all, Detroit represents the fault of American democracy to end racial segregation. Over fifty years after the end of legal racial segregation, Detroit is a racially and economically divided city. People of color are usually confined to the inner city, while those wealthier and with whiter skin benefit from the cleaner and safer streets of neighboring suburbs.
Detroit’s fitting Latin motto is: “Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus.”
We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes.

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