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The Down Town of Detroit

06/11/09 | by Charlie [mail] | Categories: The World

Whenever I talk about unemployment and crime rates with other people, Detroit and Flint always seem to come up. Detroit was recently rated America's Most Dangerous City for 2009 by Forbes.com, so congratulations to them! Coincidentally, I happened to take a stroll out towards the Motor City for a Tigers game last weekend. I haven't been to Detroit for maybe 3-4 years, but it's not at all how I remember it.


Usually my time in the Detroit area involves either the Lodge Freeway, Metro Airport (Remodeled somewhere around 3 times in the last 10 years), Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park, or Gameworks. This time I got the last two in. For whatever reason, we decided to get off I-96 at Grand River.

There are some very famous stretches of road in America, The sceny stretch in the UP, the "Singing Roads" around the country, the LA strip. But Grand River from I-96 to Detroit should be one. The entire drive felt like a cross between American Gangster and I am Legend.

Forbes summerizes it as:

Starting in the 1960s, Detroit began a precipitous decline. Most scholars blame rapid suburbanization, outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, and federal programs they say exacerbated the situation by creating a culture of joblessness and dependency. Residents fled to the suburbs and to other regions of the country entirely, leaving behind a landscape littered with abandoned buildings.

However, words can only begin to describe what a true slum this stretch of road is. The only habitable buildings on Grand River appear to be Churches, the rest slump gently into a landscape of overgrown wild flowers; Tagged by gangs, windows broken by neighborhood kids, and walls smashed by insurmountable problems. Many of the stores had their back walls and ceilings broken down and were filled with the refuse of past occupants. Through the smashed chairs and tables, stacked up to where a ceiling should have been, I can see 3-foot tall grass lots and the broken chain link fences behind.

There was one bright spot along the way. Some type of building stood just off to the side next to a boarded up apartment building. Perhaps overcompensating for the lack of color in its neighbors, the exterior of this building appeared to be made entirely of shattered glass, shattered mirrors, stained glass, and other shiny, colorful objects. Among the rubble, this building was one of the most striking, beautiful buildings I've seen, anywhere.

In any case, I was compelled to take a picture of it. Because again, one cannot imagine a building like this without seeing it. Unfortunately, I didn't take my camera on this trip. And my companions and I were not compelled to stop for longer than a street light cycle. Again indicative of the overall feel of the area. There wasn't anyone dangerous looking around, nor anyone at all for that matter. It was almost as if the buildings were going to mug us.

As we approached Comerica Park, things didn't improve much until we got right there. Even one or two blocks away (Where we parked), the lots were all abandoned. Across from a rather nice retirement community, lay an entire block composed of dormant houses and empty, overgrown lots. Between the blocks is an overgrown 2-track road where one can't help but wonder how many drug deals have gone down.

Then suddenly there is the parking garage, protected lots, and two giant new stadiums. This is the buffer zone between the nicer downtown Detroit and the abandoned outside. Perhaps the downtown has withdrawn and grown denser to protect itself from the forces bearing down on the rest of the road. It's not to say all of Detroit is like this, the true downtown is actually rather nice. And there are many areas and suburbs that are also very upscale. However the partitioning of the city has left this no man's land behind.

I've seen some poor areas, but this was this part of Detroit was entirely different, almost demoralizing, simply devoid of life. This stretch of road leaves so much to be photographed, video taped, and otherwise captured and shared. It's definitely worth a weekend trip back sometime, however I'll have to bring some "protection" and do most of the work from my car. But look for a full photo set later this summer!

Tags: detroit

1 comment

Comment from: Bijan [Visitor]
BijanThis reminds me of a movie I saw recently called "Detroit: Ruin of a City." I might have discussed it with you before. It's an interesting documentary explaining the conjoined history of Detroit and the Ford Motor Company. A good portion of it is also dedicated to the urban decay of the city and how it got to be that way.


The entwined life of the city and its industry seems more relevant now as well, since our automobile companies feel like they're heading down the same road Detroit did many years ago.
06/11/09 @ 16:15
A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.


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