Filling in the Gaps
My ever keen brother in Detroit recently alerted to me to a very interesting piece on his troubled and chagrined hometown. More a critique on the city’s media attention than on the city itself, VICE (and their broadband channel VBS.tv) takes aim at how this once-great-metropolis has fallen victim to shallow one-liners and easy-photo-essays on urban decline. I, for one, have pointed my camera at the adundant decay and posted the images for display, and can’t help but feel a bit sheepish about partaking in this “misery porn” myself (And yes – gasp – I even fetishized over the hulking Central Train Station. Tsk, tsk, says VICE).
While VICE showcases a fair bit of the urban decay themselves – fully half of their video piece features Johnny Knoxville illegally wandering through beautiful abandoned buildings marveling at their opulent past – the piece eloquently uncovers a nascent yet thriving creative class in Motor City. Artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs seem banded together in tough pioneerism, facing the cruel city with microphones, paint brushes and pulled pork. They commiserate in their under appreciated city and revel at their good fortune of living in Detroit at a time when they can poach entire city blocks for farming, art installations, and rave parties. Listening to these determined voices, you get the feeling that Detroit can rebound, one DIY project at a time.
The most poignant interview was with Larry Mongo, a long time entrepreneur who owns and operates Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy in Downtown Detroit. The recent Creative Class renaissance has brought his business back from the dead, he says, in an ever changing landscape of boom and bust. To paraphrase, he believes if the city founders could come back today, they would see young pioneers making their own mark on the city, just like they did 300 years earlier. We’re all moving and relocating and returning to “fill in the gaps,” left by the pioneers who came before us.
The point being, there ARE definitive pockets of community growing and collaborating and making something out of sweat and cheap real estate, just as they have across humanity for generations. When people get together and DO something – say YES – things happen. If this bond of purpose and determination is any sign, Detroit has a pulse. And it is growing in the empty gaps that have all too often defined this city.