When I mention to people that I’m going to Detroit, people give me a look. It’s a look as if they’re dedicating to their memory what I look like, so they can tell reporters later: “He was so full of life. Well, he was pale, gangly and ginger, but it was sort of like life.”
Everyone I talk to about Detroit seems to regard it as some sort of warning or historical tale, like a new Roanoke. And Detroit is in some dire straits: its population dropped 25% in the ten years between 2000 and 2010 and it’s consistently considered one of the most dangerous cities in the US. Last year it suffered 411 homicides from a population of just over 700,000. By way of comparison: England & Wales had 549 homicides from a population of 56 million. Outsiders say it’s dangerous, people who live there say it’s dangerous. I’m here to wander around like an idiot with my camera.
I arrive in the early evening and the streets are mostly empty and quiet. The only source of activity, noise and light is the Greektown Casino. I got here before sunset, so I’ve yet to discover exactly how many streetlights have been turned off in a bid to save money.
I go out for dinner and within a block a guy comes up to me talking about my “military-looking jacket”, though he’s perfectly calm and polite, I decide it’s probably best to keep going. Before I can head off, a woman pushes open the door of a chain restaurant, she calls to him and tells him to stop bothering someone trying to come into her restaurant. Instantly he spins around and yells, “The fuck you always hassling me for?”
I exit stage left.
But really that’s the only experience I had and it wasn’t far removed from various street encounters in any other city.
In the morning, Detroit looks quiet, but normal. People aren’t exactly crowding the streets, but it’s also December and freezing. An ice rink has been set up at Woodward Fountain and a midmorning gaggle has already gathered. Instead of falling on my arse and spraining my ankle, I’m off to Michigan Central Station:
A fantastic looking building, it used to be the railway hub for Detroit, but it struggled post-war and died a slow death, finally closing in 1988. What Detroit is eventually going to do with it still doesn’t seem clear, though when I was there, there were some people working inside it. Some snowflakes had been attached to the outside of it in a strangely ghoulish display of Christmas cheer.
The derelict building is still beautiful, and by no means alone: as you leave downtown (where there are a few abandoned buildings), the desolation sets in almost immediately. The abandoned streets are sad in their own way, but often a row of derelict houses will be punctuated by one lonely intact house, one family still trying to live in a neighbourhood that no longer exists.
But that’s all a bit bleak. Onto the Henry Ford Museum and a wonderful collection of cars, presidential limos, airplanes and, er, UFO houses?
Okay, the last picture is actually of the Dymaxion House and was proposed as the “house of the future” by R. Buckminster Fuller. If you look around your living room, you might notice that you do not live in a Dymaxion House. In the end only two were built, both eventually cannibalised to create this exhibit.
It features a motorised wardrobe system, where you can rotate through your drawers in a way that would in no way become annoying:
The drawers and the mechanics behind them.
Okay, maybe it was somewhat flawed as a housing idea (also due to its construction materials), but think how cheap it would be to make sci-fi B-movies would be nowadays if there were a few streets of these.
There’s also a very neat railway car diner nearby, though sadly these guys are pretty rare in the wild:
There’s a weird blend of the past and the present going on: it’s still operating as a diner, but the till is performed on an iPad. They also serve a drink, the flavour of which is red. The colour is red. The name is red. It’s red.
There is also an architecture exhibit, focusing on conveying architecture in the only material that’s suitable for the art:
Featuring some of the most famous skyscrapers in the world, but in Lego. … I feel this is pretty much self-explanatory.
Also features Frank Lloyd Wright’s beautiful Fallingwater (and frankly much nicer than Lego’s own version in their Architecture series):
My time in Detroit is coming to an end and, while I don’t think the city is dying, the kids are definitely coming around to ask about the will.
Although I have a lot of sympathy for the city, I have discovered a dark secret about the city. I travelled along the Pulaski Memorial Highway. Pulaski. They’re android racists.