The Sauk and Fox peoples were living by the waters of the great lakes. Then the French arrive then the English who then call themselves American. The Americans kill a bunch of Sauk and Fox and tell the rest to go walk 1000 miles to Oklahoma or they’ll also be killed. We have important things to do here, say the Americans. They put concrete and steel all over the land and burn coal to make these things that people worship called cars. They build impressive ornate towers in which they administrate the holy work of car building. The Americans build the world’s modern industrial city. Nearly 2 million people lived in Detroit in the 1950s.
Then, quickly, imaginary numbers change and nearly everyone leaves. Detroit is done, they say. It’s over. The magic numbers changed. Some derivative of an estimation of human value went down on an invisible thing called “the market” and Detroit became worthless. Bankrupt, they say.
It’s at least as curious a story as the Maya abandonning their cities over a thousand years ago.
What do the Sauk & Fox think, booted out to make way for the promise of a now-abandonned industrial utopia?
It looks like our civiliation is crazy. How the hell do we go to war and destroy lands and build a few pockets of beauty and then say, ‘oh not worth it any more, let’s get out of here’?
Now Detroit is becoming a prime area where the shift, the question of what we will do with post-industrial urban spaces, is playing out.
Tourists, from what I understand, are drawn to 3 things in Detroit:
1. The casinos, which are huge and abundant and depressing but have free coffee and you can smoke inside.
2. The abondonned buildings, viewing of which is called “ruin porn” (my favourite ruin by far is the completely adanbonned Book Tower, pictured).
3. The rebuilding. Lots of people go to visit and squat in and live in Detroit as part of the re-building, the re-invention of an urban landscape, re-purposing it into something that works for people in the long term, something more resilient than boom-and-bust heartbreak.
Many Detroiters want to see the return of the industrial heyday. And manufacturing is moving back slowly. But people are skeptical that’ll work. Poverty and despair, hard to miss at the casinos, abound.
Many are taking to generative self-sustaining activities like urban agriculture, which Detroit is quickly becoming famous for (stories and stories and stories). The arts scene is also taking off again. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens as low cost of living, few public services, and a pervasive lack of mainstream direction fuse together there. It’s almost an anarchist paradise.
Altogether almost a funny story except for how sad it is.
Tips from having visited for bus/train lay-overs in the last year:
-I never felt my safety threatened but I’m a tall male who was wearing big backpacks. Avoiding being flashy or obnoxious, and being with someone are probably the best ways to stay safe.
-If you need a warm place to sit downtown, American Coney Island hot dog diner is open 24/7 and is the place to be late. Homeless people help clean the place up at night in exchange for being allowed to stay inside. It’s a fascinating symbiosis. A Coney Island is a hot dog with chili and mustard and raw onions on top. Next door is another Coney Island hot dog restaurant that closes at 1 am or so. Coney Island is in New York. Why its hot dogs are in Detroit I dunno.
-The diner down the road from the MGM Grand is also open all night, has better food and is a bit grungier than the Coney Island spots, is less busy, and has wifi.
-The casinos are open 24/7, don’t have windows, have free coffee, allow smoking indoors and sell Marlboro’s from the bar for $11 a pack. They’re busy all the time.
-From 10-5 during the day, one of the biggest best old school bookstores on the continent is open. 4 giant floors of books and really nice staff.