editorial     Jun 27 2014

What’s Up Detroit?

Xinyang Chen
Mapos Designer

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the best movies I’ve seen recently. It is weird, entertaining, and splashed with spectacular images and sounds that heavily reference cultural history of being cool. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, the lead characters in the movie (and also now my favorite movie couple), spend good amount of their time in Detroit. In following them, we witnessed the destruction of a city. If we are not mourning empires past just yet, viewers at least get to start to wonder what’s up with Detroit.

You may or may not know that in the past 50 years, Detroit’s population shrank by 60%, and last year the city filed for bankruptcy, and are at an estimated $18–20 billion in debt. If these big numbers can’t help you make sense of what is going on with Detroit, the city’s decline is also well documented in photos.

“Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel,” by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.

French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre traveled back and forth from Paris to Detroit between 2005 to 2010. They compiled photos of their trips into a collection called The Ruins of Detroit. The pictures they took are disturbingly beautiful, gorgeous enough that they have been described as the “aestheticizing of Detroit’s demise.”

Watching a grand theater transform into a parking lot over time is one thing; watching peoples’ homes collapse is another. The latter is much rougher, indeed, pointing directly to the decline of our modern life. Additionally, I discovered this while I was browsing around about Detroit. Its posts compare property images on Google Street View and Bing Street View through different years, showing viewers the decline of neighborhoods at a faster rate than one could imagine.

Top to Bottom, Google Street View photography circa, 2009, 2011, 2013. Images found on GooBing Detroit.

The decline of Detroit is an extreme case of a larger issue that affects many American cities, and it is a story that transcends American soil. Many European cities had already been through the same transformation. The pitfalls of post-industrial urban landscapes have become a ubiquitous issue in our recent history. Factories today are being built in Asia; we should know that this will pass, too.

If you want to go to Detroit to check out what is going on yourself, visit detroiturbex; the website does an awesome job of collecting historical images and documents different locations of Detroit. And they host tours!

Michigan Theater Lobby, Detroit, image from Wikipedia.