Ground zero, Detroit, scene of the demise of the Industrial Revolution. Decrepit, decaying abandoned buildings including homes, warehouses and factories dot the landscape. Among the rubble drift the discarded human beings.
They try to survive the desolation, unemployment, drugs, and violence that smother Detroit. They expect little help from a corrupt and failing government. Grossly underfunded police and fire departments usually arrive too late. Streets are dark at night because the city can’t afford to keep them running. People must fend for themselves.
This description sounds like an apocalyptic movie. However, this is actually a story of rebirth, but the ending has not yet been written. Green sprouts of hope live among the detritus of the industrial era. This is the world Mark Binelli takes you to in Detroit City Is the Place to Be.
As a recent Detroit suburbanite, I had neighbors who will tell you Detroit is already dead. They have written it off. They refuse to go down there but with this attitude, they also miss many good things. Binelli didn’t listen to them.
Binelli immersed himself in the urban center, the disaster zone. He is a native, moved away after graduation from University of Michigan. He returns to his old downtown neighborhood after many years to find not much remains of the places and people he knew.
He arrived back at the peak of the recession in 2008. He spent three years in Metro Detroit slightly overlapping with the auto industry bailout. He wanted to determine if his old hometown stands a chance of survival. Join him on his quest of discovery.
Before you can understand Detroit in its current state, you must first understand its history. You must be able to see things through the eyes of the occupants, their collective social and contextual perspective.
Detroit began as a fur trapper town. Forged from violence, bloodshed and fire. The French and the British fought many battles for ownership of this strategically placed piece of land. It's located along the Canadian border and directly on top of a major water route.
Eventually, the British took control. Shortly thereafter, it burnt to the ground for the first time, but not the last. Throughout Detroit’s history, fire has been the primary means of urban renewal.