Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

The Ruins Of Detroit

Detroit appears to be a harbinger of our future.

That future is captured beautifully and painfully in a new book called The Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.

Over the past generation Detroit has suffered economically worse than any other of the major American cities and its rampant urban decay is now glaringly apparent during this current recession. Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre documented this disintegration, showcasing structures that were formerly a source of civic pride, and which now stand as monuments to the city’s fall from grace.

“Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension. The state of ruin is temporary by nature, the volatile result of the end of an era and the fall of empires. This fragility, the time elapsed but even so running fast, lead us to watch them one very last time: being dismayed, or admiring, wondering about the permanence of things. Photography appeared to us as a modest way to keep a little bit of this ephemeral state.”

The picture below is of the United Artist Theater in Detroit.  You can see more of their pictures here.


Environmental writer Rebecca Solnit, recently in Detroit, commented that “the continent has not seen a transformation like Detroit’s since the last days of the Maya.” Detroit’s population has fallen from 2 million in the mid-1950s to 800,000 now.  “Poverty, joblessness, depopulation and decay have created an almost post-apocalyptic scene here.”

Mayor Dave Bing has announced his “revitalization” plan—shrink the city.  He is planning to cut city services to targeted neighborhoods, forcing their residents to move, and then tearing down their houses.

His plan is for a new, smaller, upscale, redesigned urban core.  And his plans are based, in large part, on recommendations from the organization, Living Cities. “Members of that national organization include the Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Prudential Financial, along with ‘philanthropic’ groups like the Ford, Kresge, Kellogg and Skillman Foundations.”

Hmm, if you are suspicious that this plan has more to do with high-profit real estate deals then rebuilding the city for its inhabitants, you are probably right.   Sounds like what many of the same business elites have in mind for our national restructuring, doesnt it?

Already, Detroit is moving to close seventy-seven city parks—“the parking lots will be barricaded, trash bins will be removed, the grass will not be cut, equipment will not be maintained. No events will be permitted in the parks.

Not surprisingly, there are other, more grass-roots visions for the city.  As Democracy Now reports:

Demolition crews here are planning to tear down 10,000 residential buildings over the next four years that the city has deemed dangerous. But as old structures are coming down, the city is redefining itself in other ways. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of the city’s lots are vacant. There’s a growing urban agriculture movement that community groups are using to reclaim Detroit. Several farms currently exist within the city, and there are hundreds more community, school and family gardens.

You can learn more about that movement here.

On June 23, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream speech” while leading a March in downtown Detroit.  That was two months before he used the same phrase in his more famous Washington D.C. address.

The struggle continues.

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