Monday, November 15, 2010
William Livingston House, Detroit
William Livingston House, Detroit (demolished in 2007).
And my drawing of the same.
Photograph taken from this great book called Ruins of Detroit that came out this year.
Detroit is maybe the first post-industrial city in this country. Or maybe it's just the first post-apocalyptic city. Smaller cities have come and gone and been blown away with wind, larger cities have retooled, taken on new industries, and continue to thrive. But it's Detroit I keep hearing about on NPR. The country seems to have a collective fascination with Detroit right now - with its spectacular failure.
Maybe this is something like what happens when you have a limb amputated and continue to feel it for years afterward. But it raises a much broader question for our country. What do we do with all the infrastructure we built up after WW2? All that steel and concrete, red brick and ceramic facade, and what about those storied assembly lines? Just think of all the machinery!
Do we retool to produce solar panels just as we retooled to produce Buicks after the War? Do we clear the abandoned lots and plant seeds? So far, it seems that we've granted 42% tax breaks to films, guaranteeing that ever post-apocalyptic movie for next decade will have a little piece of Detroit in it.
There's something irresistible and important about Detroit. This is the city where people came from across the country to make $5 a day, unskilled labor, on the assembly lines. Detroit invented the middle class. And now, as we slowly lose our middle class, as income disparity grows greater and greater while wages stagnate, as unions decay and compromise themselves out of existence, corporations overtake politics, and the left moves to the right while the right moves toward fascism, there's something quaint and important about Detroit. There's also something of the sense of driving by an accident on the freeway. We're all rubber-necking a little bit, but we're also thinking about ourselves. What happens when we stop producing goods in this country? How long can we maintain our standard of living based on imports and debt? How long can we lie to ourselves and bully the rest of the world into serving us? What happens when the middle class disappears and the working people of this country start getting pissed off? It's a volatile time we live in. There is no security in an unsustainable system, even for the people at the top. This is what I see when I look at Detroit. It is perhaps a mirror. We can't help but become absorbed in self-reflection as we watch.