I had been reading some stories about the contracting population of Detroit and the effect that it was having on neighborhoods and I thought it would be interesting to check it out first hand. One plan the city considered was to move residents of less populated areas of the city to more stable and populated areas and then raze their homes to return the land to a semi-rural state. By concentrating the population in specific areas the goal would be to buttress those stronger areas and focus the cities services to these more targeted areas. In theory this seems like a good idea, but the application of this type of plan to a city like Detroit seems like it could be fraught with issues.
Crossing the border from Ontario into Detroit was relatively painless. The border agent looked like Ana Lucia from Lost, barked at me to take my sunglasses off, left her cop Oakley’s on, tried to Jedi mind trick me into admitting a few things, “so you’re on a long trip…are you carrying any LARGE sums of cash?” “Ah no, I have a bank card”, and then stole my radishes and nectarines for national security purposes.
I had been to Detroit many years ago when Chris Plant and I rode our bikes across country. When we came through this way I distinctly remember that it was pretty bombed out. So it didn’t seem far fetched that many of those unused and boarded-up buildings would be the ones that had since disappeared.
The Ambassador Bridge is very close to downtown Detroit which has the big sports arenas and high rises that still seem vital. In a ring right around this area you could see that many blocks were either completely emptied out of buildings or would have only one or two buildings. It reminded me of photos I’d seen of upper Manhattan being developed in the late 1800′s when the streets creating an entire block were in place, but only one brownstone would be built.
Many of the buildings that remain are large and quite beautiful. On some blocks there are identical grand structures from perhaps the late 19th century, one which was renovated and well cared for, and an identical structure next door in a totally decrepit state. As we moved further out from the center of the city, most of the buildings were less grand, average homes, but the same patchwork was apparent. Many blocks already had a semi-rural feel with urban fields of tall grass and some wildflowers. By the state of most houses that remained, you could see that despite the surrounding situation, the homes were being maintained. I could imagine the homeowners didn’t see any reason to move. A line from an article I read stuck in my head where an older gentleman said, “I like the quiet”.
Detroit’s reconstitution is a fascinating view into a once great American city’s demise, and I can’t wait to see the same thing happen to Las Vegas.