Monday, August 10, 2009

Detroit...The City of Urban Blight

I made it back alive. I am still in awe of this. For the pictures I took of the Central Train Depot click here and here

There is much to say about this city and my experience there so I am not sure where to start. So let me just break it down with an overall assessment. The city and the neighborhoods that surround it are in such disarray that at times I thought I was in a third world country. We could drive for miles and see more abandoned buildings than ones that were occupied. And the ones that were occupied were in such poor condition that they should be considered condemned. I am shocked that a city has let its surrounding neighborhoods fall so easily.

When most people travel to Detroit, I am assuming it is to watch their hockey team, the Red Wings, or to visit the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel, or to attend the Detroit International Auto Show. These people may not ever drive by the areas that have been overtaken by gangs and homeless people. However, these were in fact the areas that we were basically seeking out. We didn’t know that at the time though. We knew the buildings we wanted to visit, but not the neighborhoods that had once possibly flourished around them. So on the second day of our trip when we visited 10+ buildings, we were a bit scared that this trip may be our last. Shockingly enough, when driving on these streets, we saw not one police officer patrolling the streets. Not one. It seems as though the city itself has probably thrown its hands in the air and given up on the people in these neighborhoods and have let them fend for themselves. I am still trying to wrap my head around the thought of this trying to fully understand it.

Ok, I have touched on that aspect of Detroit. Lets try another.

The Gay Scene.

I cant say too much about this as we only did go to one gay club called Backstreet. It was actually a really nice club on the inside. The d├ęcor was somewhat chic, drinks were moderately cheap, the music was good, and the sound system was above average. So all in all a nice place. But as always, not everything is perfect. First of all, it was in an actual strip mall. On one side of the club was a Sally Beauty Supply. Which is quite fitting I guess for the queens looking for that perfect hair color. On the other, a Men’s Big N Tall clothing store. This could be fitting however the club itself was filled to the rim with twinks and skinny old guys. So certainly the store wasn’t going after its neighboring clientele. I would suggest perhaps and A&F or an all you can eat buffet. These bitches needed to eat something. To touch more briefly on these gays, they cant dress for shit. I saw so many popped collars I lost count. I also noticed that sandals apparently are the footwear of the moment there. Or maybe everyone just got back from the beach. I couldn’t tell. Perhaps on the way in to the bar they made a quick stop at the Sallys next door, because everyone’s hair was either blow dried out and teased or bleached. It was just…weird…and uncalled for. But as I kept saying all weekend, only in Detroit. I don’t want to sound pretentious but it may have been possibly one of the most unattractive crowds I have seen in a while. I saw next to no muscle guys, no cute bearish men, nothing. Twinks and skinny old guys, that’s it. Apparently the other white meat which I prefer must hang out somewhere else.

Moving on, lets talk about the real reason I was in Detroit…to photograph buildings. All in all I accomplished my goal. I actually only went inside one building out the ones we visited, but luckily, the one I went in was the grand daddy of them all, the Central Michigan Depot Train Station. The other buildings were either completely boarded up with no access points, or were in areas where we wouldn’t dare step out of the car because we actually wanted to survive this trip. So I will let some of my pictures below speak for themselves. Here are just a few of the hundreds I took. I still need to load them onto my computer and edit them accordingly. Once that is done I will post the link so you can view the rest.


Sebastian said...

Friends who have visited Detroit, and who met some very knowledgeable locals, have told me that there is not one real, large, grocery store left in the city. The population forages in 7-11s and gas stations, buying their food there.

There are other cities where whole blocks are being torn down to be left fallow - Youngstown comes to mind - but Detroit is a major city of this country, and its decline and fall portend awful things.

Ian J Brooks said...

Those photos are amazing. It all looks like so post apocalyptic war zone

Anonymous said...

You could have just gone to Braddock and saved some gas.

Drewbert said...

And this is why we don't buy foreign cars.... like Audis.

I'm sure the irony of an American driving a foreign car to Detroit to photograph the blight of the city caused by the decline of the American auto industry will be lost on everyone.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ Drewbert...

There are MANY more factors that played into the decline of Detroit and the American auto industry. For example, the inability to foresee what the future needs instead of reveling in the now (SUV craze anyone?) and resting on laurels building cars that were sub-par when compared to Japanese, German, and even Korean competition. American buyers are not dumb and the decline is mainly on management of these companies, not people that buy foreign. And frankly if you're going to claim patriotism and look down on others, check out how much stuff you've purchased that was made in China. 'Nuff said.

Drewbert said...

Detroit foresaw the SUV craze. They were the ones who invented it. GM tried to build an electric car year's before the Pruis, but at the time the technology was not economically feasible.

It is a myth that foreign cars have longer lives than domestic ones. As a percentage of vehicles produced Chevy has the highest continuing registration rate.

Toyota didn't manage to build a car that wouldn't rust to the ground until the 1992 Camry came out. The Koreans have only very recently gained some dependability. The Germans have frighteningly bad reliability. My ex-BF had a Passat with a reliability record that would make a Kia blush. Buick, Lincoln, and Cadillac regularly duke it out with Lexus and Jaguar for the top J.D. Powers spot.

Toyota's clairvoyance into the future included building a $1.2 billion dollar factory for a new gas sucking truck. Greenie Toyota's truck ends up getting worse mileage than Ford or Chevy. They released the Tundra right before gas prices peaked. Not seeing the future what? The Camry that is on sale now was released with a rash of problems.

I know that some of the things I purchase come from china. I do try to avoid it where I can. In some cases, the industry has completely left the country and there are no domestic products left.

Detroit is just a symbol of the outsourcing of the economy of this country. Every time you buy a foreign product, management kills another domestic job.

It's the irony of driving a vehicle that helped kill Detroit, to Detroit, to photograph the damage, that bothers me.

Anonymous said...

All legitimate points, but ponder these as well.

Greenie Toyota did not file for bankruptcy did they? They did suffer pretty big losses, but there is still a market in the United States for a Tundra sized truck. Why not capitalize on it, and on top of it build it here? GM killed their own electric vehicle program, and it has taken them 10+ years to come up with someone less than what they had. In addition, they had to kill off half of their brands to survive, were they biting off too much? If GM looked towards the future, they would have had fuel efficient desirable cars on the market, not the Cavalier, Aveo (aka a Daewoo).

Frankly, no one can tell the future of gas prices as it is set by OPEC and speculators on Wall Street. Toyota can't read their minds of course, but they were prepared with the Prius. What did GM have? Nothing. It's taken them an extraordinarily long time to come out with a car (the Volt) and it promises to be excellent. I'm excited, the only downside it's going to run around 40k.

Kudos goes to Ford for actually changing their ways and blazing a trail for the future. That where the other American manufacturers need to take a look. The Fusion hybrid is amazing, from the quality to the drivetrain, to the innovated use of LCD screens inside. It is better than the Camry hybrid by leaps and bounds.

I'm definitely rooting for Detroit to get back on track, but for my money I'm not going to buy a car that I feel I'm not getting my money's worth. I will shop around for the best deal and the best quality, that's the beauty of American capitalism. We have a choice. Businesses have a choice too.

Drewbert said...

My point about the Tundra is that they completely overspent on a plant that is now running at less than half capacity.

Contrary to popular belief, GM and Ford have made fuel efficient vehicles for years. The issue for the domestics is that they didn't tune their efficiency to the EPA tests. On paper, HonYota did better, but in real life, GM and Ford could meet or exceed them.

Here's why. The EPA test up until 2008 was completely unrealistic. Your grandmother doesn't even drive as slow and conservatively as the old test. The result is cars like the Civic getting amazingly high EPA ratings. The Civic has a relatively small displacement engine. That's fine for fuel economy at steady highway speeds, but it sucks for acceleration and zipping around town. You have to spin the snot out of a Civic engine in real city driving. The result was much lower real world numbers.

The Chevy Cobalt on the other hand has a relatively large displacement. The engine doesn't have to work as hard during acceleration and the gearing can be set lower for highway cruising. The same was true for the Cavalier. Saturns going all the way back to 1992 could get into the high 30s on the highway. The 1994 V6 Pontiac Bonneville not only had the first ULEV rated V6, but could regularly achieve 32mph highway. Not too shabby for a large 6 person sedan.

Oldsmobile introduced one of the first high feature DOHC 4-cylinder engines in 1987. In the Cutlass Calais it was good for 33mpg. It was available in a 180hp version all the way back in 1989 while the Accord was weazing by with just 120hp and could only manage 30mpg.

Much ado has been made about how "crappy" and fuel sucking GM and Ford were in the 80's and 90's. It is mostly media bias that has a clearing anti-domestic sentiment.

Now I don't know where you live or how into cars you are, but I can spot a car and usually tell you it's year of manufacture. Here in Pittsburgh I still see many 1988 - 1991 Cutlass Calais on the road. I don't see many Accords of that vintage still running.

Give me any year over the last 30 years and I can give you at least one domestic car in each of the small, medium, and large size classes that was equal or superior to the imports of the same vintage and has since proven itself over time.

Buying a Honda, Toyota, Audi, BMW became a fashion statement. "They're 'better' because they're imported"...... much like Perrier is "better" water.

Saab, Fiat, Hummer, GEO, and Saturn were all money sinks for GM, I'll give you that.

Anonymous said...

I live near Detroit and I know what really killed it. The 19th century. Detroit has always been a hell hole, even when it had a booming auto industry because everyone who worked in the factories lived outside of Detroit, often far, far away. From the late 1800's to today Detroit can fairly be characterized as a haven for criminals and low lifes. Nobody is being forced to live in Detroit and with a lack of jobs and such a horrible environment to be in or around even if you had money it's astonishing that there is ANYONE even left there, but guess what? There are over a million people who would REFUSE to leave. Some people don't care if a place is dangerous, dirty and smells like ass, they crave it for providing them the means to live their life style.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Detroit for a year. Since I couldn't find a job (shocker there) I spent a great deal of time driving around this once great city.
The scope and magnitude of the decay that I witnessed there cannot be captured by camera or by other medium.
I drove into areas where there was not a soul or a sound or anything that suggested life. The area was dead, not dieing. As far as I could see the homes, factories, churches and schools were burned, collapsed, torn down, or simply abandoned.
A war had been fought and the residents fled after having surrendered.
I took my kids into downtown a few times. My eldest opined that the people looked like zombies. During the week, there is none of the hustle and bustle one associates with city life. On the weekends, it is generally a ghostown. Drug dealers and thirteen year old hookers ply their trades on Gratiot.
The City that was once known as "Paris of the West" is in its death throes. It was and remains a tragedy. Why this isn't broadcast daily is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

I live in the city RIGHT NOW, and this place is far from dead. You just have to look in the right places. I have met so many amazing people here, particularly artists and young entrepreneurs that are experiencing MAJOR successes here. Sure, this is a city without Grocery stores and major chain retailers, but it is also a playground for young people with ideas. I shop at independent bakeries and farmer's markets, I buy handmade clothes and household items from skilled craftspeople, and I love it. Detroit isn't empty. We're here, we're friendly, we're doing just fine, we're just spread the fuck OUT. We're a small town population living in one of the biggest sq. mi. cities in the nation. Yeah, we've got problems, but we're SOLVING them. People always come from out of town and take pictures of places like the old Cass Tech high school that is crumbling to the ground, but if they just panned the camera slightly to the left you would see the beautiful NEW Cass Tech high school just next door. Stop watching the news. Have faith. We're doing just fine.

Anonymous said...

I just returned from a business trip in Warren, MI. My friend, who lives in a suburb of Detroit, drove me through the downtown Detroit on the main streets. It was beautiful. The old, old churches are gorgeous.
Of course it was night so I could not comment on the cleanliness. It was cold so we did not get out of the car.
I asked her where the blight was. I sure did not see it.
She turned down a street she had never been down and there it was. So sad.
I have heard do many bad things about Detroit. The glimpse of Detroit that I saw was a very positive experience.
I went on the internet to try to understand what happened. This is not the auto industry. There has been a steady decline in population since the 1950s where the population topped 2 million. A few years ago, it was 700k.
Detroit has potential.