Detroit InMotion Pt. 1

August 17, 2015
Detroit InMotion Pt. 1

Arriving in Detroit directly from New York can be a shocking experience. The change is extreme. It's as though you were entering another country, another era, or landing on another planet. Time has temporarily stopped in Detroit while in NY we live in the future.
 
At least that's the impression you might have and honestly, I got that exact same feeling as soon as I arrived at the airport. The hustle and bustle diminished dramatically. As I waited to take the shuttle to the city center, the calm, the silence, the quiet were only interrupted by the sound from the engines of the continuously departing airplanes.
 
Much has been said and written about Detroit. The purpose of my visit to what used to be the most industrialized American city had everything to do with this exaggeration of opinions and philosophies. It appears as though the world turned its back on Detroit. It seems like the world abandoned the city or perhaps vice versa.
 
There are few smiles on the citizens’ faces that cross our path, on the buses, on the People Mover, and on the streets. Unfortunately, there haven't been many reasons for people to smile. The residents of Detroit have suffered greatly. Most of them, about two thirds (Detroit’s population has plunged to about 700,000 from 1.8 million in the heady manufacturing years of the 1950s), have left the city. The majority of those who remained are suffering. It's apparent from their faces that it has not been easy for them to endure the struggle, survive the crisis, remain upright and carry on with some degree of dignity, even though much of this city has crumbled, leaving entire buildings, houses and industries abandoned and vacant. Even in downtown the devastation and desolation is clear as day, but ultimately this is what cities need to realize.
 
Post-apocalypse
 
What impresses me most is not the devastation itself. It's the almost post-apocalyptic desolation. It reminds an Eastern old Soviet European atmosphere.
 
Detroit is full of iconic buildings; perfect buildings that were built in the city's heyday. It's not the construction, the architecture or the structure that have lost their interest. What makes it bleak is the abandonment and the emptiness. It's the feeling that if we didn't know that this had been one of the most populous and prosperous cities in America (and in the world), we might think that something catastrophic had happened here, something akin to Chernobyl or Okinawa. But instead of deaths, the result was mass exodus.
 
Nobody seems to have been spared in this cataclysmic disaster, not universities nor churches or restaurants or hotels and convenience stores. Not even the city and its administration which went bankrupt and became what it is today, a symbol of times past, a signal of an economic paradigm shift, the threshold of the border between the new world and the old.
 
It's not easy to talk about Detroit without addressing this darkened vision, and not just because of the absence of streetlights (although the lights are turning on again). But especially because of the sinister feeling you get when you see streets that once swarmed with people, now abandoned without a soul in sight. The absolutely brazen way we cross avenues without regard for the color of the traffic signal, because virtually no cars pass by.
 
The darkness, the rust, the gray or the absence of color and light, the devastation that lies around the corner is haunting. The shops that closed, but kept their "Open" signs in place, as though everyone had fled in a hurry. It is a natural cataclysm, the fall of the last stronghold of the American industrial era.
 
The apocalypse occurred, and the city suffered. It's now the post-apocalyptic era and Detroit did not perish.
 
Downtown Detroit is a construction site
 
The whole city is designed around the automobile. Large avenues, huge parking lots (covered and uncovered), plenty of space for movement. After all, it was the world's factory just after World War II. Industrialization boomed the city into prosperity, along with the automotive industry. "This was not just the home for the factories of big brands, it was everything that revolved around them, from the components to the services," said a former Ford employee, who meanwhile has become homeless.
 
It was over. The city became unsustainable, contributing to the collapse.
 
Of course, there were other factors, mainly those related to corruption and mismanagement and neglect. But the accounts of justice do not seem to be the same as the citizens present them. The price was heavy and the American dream has died for many of Detroit's inhabitants.
 
Currently, the 'Downtown' area and some of the 'Midtown' areas and other districts such as the 'West Village' and others are the ones that most contribute to the city still having "a light at the end of the tunnel".
 
Some of these areas and main avenues have been literally transformed into a construction site. This is a result of a project to extend the 'Amtrak' railway lines to other areas and make the city more accessible, "greener" and more attractive. In addition, a super-infrastructure will be installed that will revolutionize broadband optical fiber in the city, making it competitive for technology-based companies that are currently establishing themselves there.
 
Detroit trembled, but it did not die. It will soon be a case study. A milestone that defines the end of an era, based on jobs in an industry that is currently not experiencing its best days, an industry whose production lines were modernized, turning millions of jobs obsolete. The city was the home of industry that no longer means much to the younger generation, who prefer lifestyles that are very different, environmentally sustainable, intelligent and efficient.
 
It's now expected that the city that was once the most industrialized city in America will now be reborn from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix, with intelligence, strength and beauty - pillars that are the cornerstone of modernity and this new era of a 21st century 'Renaissance'. Many hope so, while others are already seeing the results of this recovery.
 
Read Pt. 2 Here and Pt. 3 Here

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