It has become fashionable – or maybe by now old hat – to celebrate the ruins of Detroit, which prospered with the rise of the American automobile industry and went through a shockingly rapid decline as American manufacturing dispersed across the country and then moved off-shore in search of ever cheaper labour. Scores of opulent architectural gems became ruins. Streets, once bustling with affluent auto workers, jazz musicians, and industrialists, were abandoned.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the ruins were perceived as tragic relics of lost prosperity. That’s how I still see them. I’ve walked through the empty streets, and I can’t look at my pictures, or those others have taken, without grieving for the many lives that were ruined by the fall of Detroit. But, despite precipitate population decline, a significant population remained, many of them still doggedly in love with the city.
Local boosters began making a virtue of Detroit’s collapse, portraying the ruins as objets d’art, comparing them to Rome and Athens, even Ephesus and Zimbabwe. Today, European intellectuals make pilgrimages to stand in awe in front of ruined cathederals, schools, libraries, factories and office buildings. Even if, as with me, it’s the tragedy that hits you, it’s hard to deny the fascination. Click on the links above, or Google “Detroit ruins” to see for yourself.