Monday, August 17, 2009

Reality Check on Gratiot Ave

I have lots to say about the impact of deindustrialization on rust belt cities when I'm teaching. If you are my student, I can assign you lots of readings, pose thoughtful questions, demonstrate a number of different approaches (highlighting why each failed, of course), but I have nothing smart, witty, or insightful to say about Detroit -- the shell of a city upon whose outer rim I live -- after my drive today.

Today I drove from the City Airport area to the edge of downtown (5 miles maybe?) and I found myself sinking into a sort of stupor at the sight of it all. A huge street, nearly deserted -- few cars, even fewer people (and no kids), no buses... There are pleanty of empty lots and buildings that have not had functioning businesses in them for decades, perhaps. Burned out buildings abound on the side streets. And not a single place, save a McDonalds and a Burger King, to buy a cup of coffee (which I desperately wanted). No diners, no Coney Islands. Certainly no coffee shops. Mostly concrete and weeds and peeling paint.

I know there are pokets of wonderfulness in Detroit (I brushed the corner of Eastern Market and I had a meeting with staff at Gleaners Community Food Bank) but I was overwhelmed to be in that urban landscape and realize (at least based on the streetscape) how little there was to glue this area together. There weren't even churches. At least from the outside, there seemed to be little to save and little reason to care. That downtown is clearly visible, that Ford Field is blocks away, seems to matter not from Vernor to 9 mile.

As someone who is usually quite tolerant of the 'cycle of life' in urban America (I do study porn shops and bars, after all), I will reluctantly admit I found myself thinking, "this is hopeless."


Daye said...

come to Jazzfest w/us

Sean Hickey said...

As one who love the city of Detroit and visits fairly often, I have to say it's come back a bit in many place. Unfortunately, you weren't in on of those places...