The city of Detroit has a long and varied, but still proud history. Once the spiritual, if not physical, epicentre of American manufacturing, Detroit has, more recently, become the postcard for the ‘Rust Belt’. Perhaps the latter 20th and early 21st century analogue to the ‘Dust Bowl’. That collection of contiguous, once economically strong, states in the northeast and midwest of the U.S. that has come to epitomise the decline of the ‘middle class’.
Detroit’s nadir came during the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009. But the city had been in decline for many years before that as the engine of the local economy, the automotive sector, downsized and decamped to cheaper locales.
Some have documented the decline of the city. Sites such as Forgotten Detroit, Historic Detroit, and DetroitUrbEx have chronicled well the physical decline of the bones of the city. Others have taken advantage of Detroit through production of so-called ‘Abandon Porn’.
I feel a bit of a kinship to Detroit and its people. My home town, Oshawa, ON, was once the physical and spiritual centre of Canadian manufacturing. As the Canadian head office location for General Motors, and home of much of GM’s Canadian manufacturing operations Oshawa, too, has seen a marked decline in its fortunes commensurate with the decline and gradual exodus of the company from the city. Not as steep a decline as Detroit, but evident nonetheless.
Oshawa; however, is not experiencing what Detroit is today. There is a renewal and revival going on in Detroit. Detroiters are very proud of their city and protective of it. Talk to them and they will expound at length about how Detroit is coming back. Public art installations like the Heidelberg Project and the wonderful farmers’ market in the Eastern Market district are evidence of this. The Brush Park area is seeing tremendous revitalisation among the wreck. A new hockey arena is being built in the central core of the city next to the baseball and football stadia. And a new light rail transit line is being installed.
In February 2016, I made my first sojourn to my sister-city to begin, what will likely be, a multi-year project to document the spirit of survival and the renewal of this once great city. My second trip will be later this spring. After that, perhaps a once a year trek to continue to document the rebirth of the city.
A 19th century police station has been bought and repurposed as commercial/office space. I was fortunate to get a look inside during the construction phase. On the top floor, there had been a basketball court.
The project of documenting the wreck and renewal in Detroit continues.
Groups and residents have begun to develop urban farms in the city. They are buying or taking over empty lots and blocks and turning the land into mini farms to bring fresh food to areas otherwise called “food deserts”. A food desert is an area with no grocery store and no way for residents to get fresh food.
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative has a large area of land on Brush Street and makes its food available free of charge. The Oakland Avenue urban farm, run by Jerry Hebron and her husband, has a Saturday market during the season where people can come and buy fresh food. Volunteers who work on the farm are allowed to take as much food as they would like. The farm also makes available compost and wood mulch chips to residents at no charge.