Detroit in Ruins (Again)

Detroit is in ruins again. Here’s Juan Cole on the recent petition for bankruptcy, on the relationship between the city and the country as a whole, and on the fact that Detroit’s crisis is contemporary, not merely historical:

The 1% did a special number on southeast Michigan with its derivatives and unregulated mortgage markets; the 2008 crash hit the region hard, and it had already been being hit hard. The Detroit area is a prime example of the blight that comes from having extreme wealth (Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Pointe) and extreme poverty (most of Detroit) co-existing in an urban metropolitan area. It doesn’t work. The wealthy have no city to play in, and the city does not have the ability to tax or benefit from the local wealthy in the suburbs. These problems are exacerbated by de facto racial segregation, such that African-Americans are many times more likely to be unemployed than are whites, and to live in urban blight rather than in nice suburbs.

Meanwhile, the Guardian took this as the opportunity to publish yet another slideshow of the city’s fabulous ruins. Their aesthetic appeal is meant, I think, as some kind of compensation for the devastation that they document. But it’s not insignificant that these images are depopulated, empty of all but material detritus: the human toll of this ruination is registered and elided at the same time. Here’s “the ballroom of the 15-floor art-deco Lee Plaza Hotel, an apartment building with hotel services built in 1929 and derelict since the early 1990s”:

Detroit ballroom

One thought on “Detroit in Ruins (Again)

  1. There’s an article or a book to be written about what we might term ‘Fordist nostalgia’. It’s a phenomenon that takes on a very particular tenor in different national contexts. So, in France, it’s a nostalgia for the decades of gaullist postwar growth combined with a xenophobic tendency to blame all France’s current ills on those damn ‘Anglo-Saxons’. In Britain, it appears in less xenophobic form in films like “Brassed Off” or Ken Loach’s recent “Spirit of 45” and in a strange, conservative mediation in the presenters of “Top Gear” conducting melancholy tours around the former sites of the UK’s car industry. In the US, it’s at the core of “The Wire”, particularly evident in the montage of ruined and abandoned industrial sites in Baltimore, juxtaposed with shots of drug-dealing in the city’s (formerly) working class communities that ends Season 2. And, of course, its most evident expression is in our fascination with the ruins of the city that gave birth to Fordism, as both production process and regime of accumulation, namely Detroit. I guess the question is, is this all just hopeless nostalgia and hence a blockage to thinking or imagining current solutions to current problems? Or, could it be seen in a more Benjaminian, redemptive mode as scraps of a past, unrealised utopia we can only glimpse as we are blown backward into the postfordist future? Answers on a postcard!

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