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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Alec Soth's Detroit

In the Daily Telegraph, Mick Brown and Alec Soth look at the effects race, cars and the subprime fiasco have had on Detroit. James Howard Kunstler gets a namecheck and there is also a short slideshow by Alec here .

"The birthplace of modern America - one might say the modern world - is a huge disused factory building that stands on a busy six-lane boulevard in a part of Detroit named Highland Park.


It has become a commonplace to describe Detroit as the sick city of America, but it is sobering to reflect on just how long this has been so. Browsing the internet before arriving in the city I came across an article in Time magazine headlined 'Decline in Detroit', lamenting the rising unemployment rate, the rate of migration from the city and its declining tax base. 'Blight is creeping like a fungus through many of Detroit's proud, old neighbourhoods,' it read. The article was dated 1961."


This exodus of people and commerce to the suburbs resulted in a massive shift of capital, and a declining tax-base in the inner-city. While Oakland County, the wealthy suburb to the north, is one of the most affluent areas in America, Detroit itself is the country's most impoverished city - not only a synonym for urban decay, but a repository of all of America's most intractable problems: the decline of manufacturing and the threat of competition from overseas; racial tensions; a housing market decimated by the subprime mortgage crisis. More than a third of Detroit's residents live at or below the federal poverty line. Ironically, in the city that gave America the automobile, more than a fifth of households do not own a car."

Read full article here


Stan B. said...

Thanks so much for this post, it brings up a host of different thoughts and emotions about this country and the time I live in. Detroit and Washington, DC- the latter a perfect Oreo, white center encircled by black environs, the former its direct inverse. All due to the fear and greed that is racism. Together they make the perfect bookends for a crash course in American history.

Truth is, many if not most American cities are not really cities at all, they more resemble daytime business hubs. Come five thirty and they're largely deserted of their day "residents" as they rush off to their suburban abodes and shopping malls. The car has helped make, and destroy this country- Detroit is just the most glaring example.

Slowly, ever so... slowly, America is finally starting to realize that we cannot continue as before. But it's going to go down kicking and screaming trying to hold on to god knows what before it finally bites the bullet and does what it should have begun doing decades ago.

colin pantall said...

Thanks for the insights, Stan - it's fascinating and so disturbing. A lot of those elements you mention (the suburbanisation of cities) filter down to the UK , but we're just too small and don't have the historical baggage to make a Detroit (Liverpool is as close as it gets but that's a long, long way off) - but the slow murder of public transport through privatisation and making it unaffordable (it costs me $4 to get the bus the 1 mile into Bath city centre) is so relevant here to the destruction of cities by car. It's the transformation of a public service into just another corporate milch cow. The rest of Europe is bewildered by that element of it - they simply can't understand how it can be so bad and so expensive. I think we all have a bit of bullet biting to do.

Stan B. said...

Colin- get a bike; can't think of a better way to get around such a beautiful place!

colin pantall said...

Too hilly, Stan (and I live halfway up one), and the roads are too busy, and I'm good at hitting stationary vehicles when I'm on a bike. Walking nice though.