Sunday, January 02, 2011

Desolation Row

When you think of Detroit you think of Motown, the MC5, Iggy And the Stooges. Now look at these images of the decline of Detroit. If the buildings are just left, abandoned as if a couple of minutes notice were given of impending destruction, what of the people of Detroit?

In the related article the photographers say:
"As Europeans, we were looking with an outsider's eye, which made downtown Detroit seem even more strange and dramatic," says Meffre. "We are not used to seeing empty buildings left intact. In Europe, salvage companies move in immediately and take what they can sell as antiques. Here, they only take the metal piping to sell for scrap. In the Vanity ballroom alone, we saw four giant art deco chandeliers, beautiful objects, each one unique. It was almost unbelievable that they could still be there. It is as if America has no sense of its own architectural history and culture."
This is very much a symptom of the cycles of capital with the decline of Detroits' reason for being (that being the motor industry), and racial politics with "white flight" leaving a largely poor, and African-American city centre. To overthrow capitalism and replace it by something better is a laudable, and vital, aim. In Detroit it is as if capitalism has abandoned the people and their infrastructure, leaving little in the way of food shops and all the other essesntials of modern existence.

The conclusion is worth reading:
as [Thomas J Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit] puts it: "The abandoned factories, the eerily vacant schools, the rotting houses, and gutted skyscrapers that Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre chronicle are the artefacts of Detroit's astonishing rise as a global capital of capitalism and its even more extraordinary descent into ruin, a place where the boundaries between the American dream and the American nightmare, between prosperity and poverty, between the permanent and the ephemeral are powerfully and painfully visible. No place epitomises the creative and destructive forces of modernity more than Detroit, past and present."

1 comment:

James700 said...

Agree that the US is a nation of migrants, and within the diaspora there is always a pecking order. The most recent migrants who have acheived a measure of success, settled and put down routes, obstruct and villify the new migrants. Whilst maintaining the illusion of an open arm policy, access to all. The Cimino movie Heavens Gate springs to mind.

I am not completely sure you can understand any people, by applying just one idea about their nature to them. Yes there is a history of the nomadic nature of the indigenous Americans and the pioneering spirit of the first European settlers led them to follow the next big thing. However the bedrock of European culture is farming, and the white man settled right across the midwest. The problems for the North Eastern US cities is the transiant nature of modern industry.