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Detroit: left to die? « Previous | |Next »
January 3, 2011

American capitalism is a strange system when Detroit, the centre of a once-thriving metropolis in the most powerful nation on earth, becomes a ghost town of decaying buildings and streets. Detroit, the industrial capital of the 20th Century, which played a fundamental role shaping the modern world, has been left to die.

publiclibraryDetroit.jpg Yves Marchand+Romain Meffre, St Christopher House, ex-Public Library, from The ruins of Detroit

This decline of a major American city, is also the decline of the American Dream into some kind of post-apocalyptic present: a city of urban ruins resulting from the collapse of the automobile industry into bankruptcy. What exists are the remnants of the passing of an empire.

Thomas J Sugrue, who provides the introductory essay to The ruins of Detroit, says:

The abandoned factories, the eerily vacant schools, the rotting houses, and gutted skyscrapers that Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre chronicle are the artefacts of Detroit's astonishing rise as a global capital of capitalism and its even more extraordinary descent into ruin, a place where the boundaries between the American dream and the American nightmare, between prosperity and poverty, between the permanent and the ephemeral are powerfully and painfully visible. No place epitomises the creative and destructive forces of modernity more than Detroit, past and present.

Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:14 PM | | Comments (5)


Capitalism is a process of creative destruction of course. The Brits had plenty of industrial ruins to contemplate in the 20th century as many of their industries collapsed, and I suspect it will soon be the turn of the Japanese to join the yanks in watching some of their great enterprises close, unable to compete with rising firms in Asia and South America. Nevertheless new industries arise to take their place and national affluence continues relatively unchecked at the macro level.

The tricky bit is deciding what, if anything, can be done and should be done to assist the individual human beings whose lives are disrupted by dynamic capitalism. It's all too easy to rely on neo-classical economic ideas to justify the smug conclusion that the best course of action is to let the market take its course, because some suffering is inevitable and laissez-faire will minimise it. The people making that argument always seem comfortably distant from the events in question.

Yeah, yeah.... all very tragic.

But to MUST remember, the biggest threat to the US (aka MURIKAH) is from a handful of scruffy Islamic terrorists. Got that??!?

Those smug, well groomed, Christian, well-educated, clean-shaven, blue-eyed wunderkind on Wall Street only want what's best for the Republic. It's those sneaky furners ya gotta look out fer!

And about that "American dream".... well considering what it's cost the rest of the planet in recent years... f&ck them all, I say.

"Nevertheless new industries arise to take their place and national affluence continues relatively unchecked..."

In recent times that "new" industry has been... for a large part... the mutant finance sector. As far as world is concerned, that actually didn't turn out too well, did it?

It's just really, really hard to continue to generate affluence unless you're engaged in MAKING something. I suppose the yanks could start producing tulip bulbs on all those spare Detroit blocks... but that solution has it's pitfalls as well.

I go along with mars 05 comment.
The physical wreckage in the photo depicted is paralleled in the human toll that comes of a generation denied entrance into a culture through initiation through work and an older generation brought up with a sense of being a party to a social contract or partnership for the advance of civilisation, knifed in effect, when they were mechanised and automated out of their place in a society.
And what an appalling waste of established infrastructure.

Can't help thinking of the paallels with communities in the MDB should the Basin Plan in any way resemble the guide.