Detroit is the modern city. What we think of when we think of the modern urban condition (from relying on automobiles and freeways to drive, from using cities to house labor for factories, to stereotypes of crime and urban dysfunction) all happened in Detroit first. So goes Detroit, so goes urban America (and arguably the urban West/North).
With that said, two stories of interest.
Detroit as a city was built for over 2 million people. Now less than 900,000 live within her borders. Over 30% of her land is unused. No wonder coyotes have been spotted roaming the city. Take a look at how Detroit compares to other major cities. Manhattan has 1.6 times as many residents in less than half of the space. Now we can look at this through the neoliberal lens and talk about waste and inefficiency…in fact this is the normal urban narrative right? Detroit is empty because it is dangerous, corrupt even. And with the economy the way it is, Detroiters able to actually sell their house at a profit, or at least at a mild loss, would do best to actually pick up stakes and leave.
I understand this viewpoint, but don’t take it myself. In fact I think it represents an opportunity to think about the city, and about cities in new and vibrant ways.
If you potentially had 89 square miles of empty land to use to serve the needs of the Detroit population, what would you use it for? What could you use it for?
The second story?
The Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News have decided to go virtual. They will publish everyday but only deliver to homes on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. Further they will devote much more of their resources to delivering news through their webpages. Hits on their webpage hover around 4 million per day, while their newspaper readership has declined. Their profits are still decent, but the costs of printing are becoming prohibitive.
This is another cost-cutting measure that hamstrings a whole set of workers. Not only are paperboys/girls out of luck, but also out of luck are the distributors they work for. And then there are the craftsmen and women who work the printing machines.
On the other hand though this theoretically leads to more innovative ways to deliver news. I shot some video over the holidays in Detroit with the thought of making a mini-documentary of sorts, and was approached about possibly letting the Free Press use some of it.
Detroit as we know it is dead. But rather than performing an autopsy, we should await the new birth. What does the spirit of the twentieth century come back as?
The spirit of the twenty-first.