Years ago, I read an article about a handful of artists and entrepreneurs, who had re-appropriated industrial squat space and neglected mansions into studios and art galleries. The ‘who’ and ‘when’ bit of the article escaped me soon after reading, but I never forgot the “where”. Detroit, and its deserted imagery, has been on my mind ever since.
Forgotten by industry, the abandoned metropolis, formerly known as the “Paris of the West” for its grand urban landscape and Art Deco design, now suffers from deplorable neglect. Once the fastest growing city in the world, today, Detroit holds on to 40, 000 abandoned houses, of which some can be purchased for less than $6, 000. It is home to architectural gems such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist Lafayette Park, and the neoclassical Michigan Central Train Station, yet it is not uncommon to have only one house inhabited within a three block radius. Teetering on bankruptcy, last year the city was forced to shut off half its street lights in order to save a buck.
Although almost impossible to believe, this is the reality of an American city. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Detropia, Detroit’s symphonic distress call to the rest of the world, will shock you with its statistics and haunting imagery of what once was.
Chronicling the pre-depression era rise and the post-nineteen eighties demise of the Motor City, the sad tale Detropia tells is affective, with a sensibility not commonly associated with vacant lots and forsaken automotive plants. The crux of Detropia lies with its narrators and the interviewed citizens of Detroit who in the face of a population consolidation refuse to leave their city’s dying side.
Not all is lost, though. There is a light at the end of Detropia’s dark tunnel, and it belongs to art. The shocking fact that one family every twenty minutes moves out of Detroit is counteracted by the calibre of a population moving in. Visionaries, artists, and young professionals seeking to rebuild such as organizations like Ponyride and Loveland Technologies will lead Detroit to its Hollywood ending. Where there is crisis, there is opportunity, and where there is hope, there is determination.