How I Survived Detroit

Despite Bri’s best efforts at getting us both killed, the two of us survived Detroit–and saw a great performance of The Phantom of the Opera for good measure. It is now ten o’clock at night and we’re both exhausted from fourteen hours of driving, navigating Detroit without the aid of an atlas and photographing some of the most distressing signs of urban crisis you could possibly imagine.

Where was I? Right. Exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that I barely have enough energy to sit upright, let alone write coherent thoughts about the day that was. For now, I just want to make a few comments about Detroit, the city–and specifically on some of the things Bri and I saw today. For instance, I move that we abolish the term “Detroit ghetto” from the lexicon…because the whole of downtown Detroit is a ghetto, and what we need is a word to distinguish the non-ghetto from the rest of the city (“suburb” isn’t quite right, but at least it’s on the right track). What’s most shocking is how wealth and povery coexist cheek-by-jowl throughout the downtown area; the Masonic Temple, for instance, is located across the street from an abandoned, burned-out aparment building, while the city’s two new sparkling sports facilities (Comerica Park and Ford Field) were built in what is, to all intents and purposes, a slum. The original impetus for this trip was, believe it or not, research: I’m in the process of preparing a presentation on the urban crisis in modern Detroit, and wanted to go there to photograph the downtown core and seek general inspiration for the project. Ironically, in doing so I realized two things: one, I’m in waaay over my head; and two, that using Detroit in order to provide context for the burgeoning economic and social crisis in Thunder Bay is utterly pointless–as bad as things are in Thunder Bay, driving through downtown Detroit on a sunny Sunday afternoon proved that there really is no comparison to the Motor City.

I have a lot more to write on the subject. I don’t pretend to fully appreciate how or why Detroit became the way it is today, but I was suitably inspired–or distressed, depending on how you look at it–by today’s visit that I want to learn more about the social, political and economic forces that doomed a once-vibrant American city to disintegrate. If I ever figure out how to post pictures I’ll throw up a couple “180 degree” shots and let them speak for themselves. In the meantime, look forward to a post tomorrow on seeing Phantom for the eighteenth time and how Bri almost got us killed while walking to the theatre.


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