As you may know, I spent much of last week in Detroit for an Near Future Lab event. There’ll be much more coverage here and elsewhere in the coming weeks as we finish up the ‘thing’ we produced, so stay tuned, as they say. Not having been to Detroit before I arrived with preconceptions, namely that it’s an old motor town with serious monetary issues, on the brink of apocalypse. The rational part of my brain overwrote those preconceptions a while back, as news media has a tendency to dwell on the worst aspects of the world, so I guess I was expecting to be pleasantly surprised.
Downtown Detroit is actually rather nice. There are nice bars and restaurants, a futuristic monorail and two fantastic looking stadiums. Theres a nice farmers market area too, with artisan breads and coffee, it’s all rather pleasant. That said, the overwhelming experience of Detroit was not good. Travel a half mile in any direction from the glossy downtown hub and you’ll see a whole new side to the city – the side you were probably expecting from countless ruin porn excursions. The streets are full of people milling about, exhibiting what Julian calls the Detroit Limp. The sidewalks are littered with garbage and graffiti, nature sprouts up through every crack. Long rows of property are boarded up, burned out, falling down or derelict. The famous 16 storey station near the centre of town lies abandoned, surrounded by razor wire. The extent of this apocalyptic landscape is what’s baffling. My home town of Derby in the UK has it’s fair share of boarded up properties, but it’s usually two or three in a row, Detroit’s blight seems to stretch in all directions, for miles.
We had a helpful driver whilst staying in Detroit, who had lived in the city for 27 years. He had some stories to tell, which I captured surreptitiously for the short movie above. I wouldn’t recommend a trip, but if you’re in the neighborhood, you really should see what parts of America look like in the 21st century.