After the decline of the auto-manufacturing industry in Detroit, the city has shrunk due to the massive exodus of the upper-middle class population and businesses, and has been transformed into an urban void, similar to that of Berlin in the early 1990s, shortly after the fall of the Wall. Similarly to Berlin, artists, musicians, and other creative young people began moving into the open spaces and (re)creating creative communities and subcultures in the midst of the urban ruins.
Many filmmakers have begun capturing this transformation of Detroit. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Detropia (2012) focuses more on the social and economic consequences of the gradual dismantling of the manufacturing infrastructure and loss of jobs, rather than the creation of new cultures and economies, and sends a warning call to the rest of America about the rise and fall of its great cities.
The film follows several protagonists, artists, video bloggers, bar owners, social workers, former employees of the auto-industry, and the former mayor through the city, capturing its voids and urban decay, as well as the various transformation projects planned for the revival of Detroit. The images are stunning and captivating, while the story lines weave into a strong narrative of loss and hope, of ruin and creativity, ultimately allowing for a re-imagining of the way cities function in the age of globalization.
“… city areas with flourishing diversity sprout strange and unpredictable uses and peculiar scenes. But this is not a drawback of diversity. This is the point of it.” (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961).
“To approach a city … as if it were [an] … architectural problem … is to make the mistake of attempting to substitute art for life…. The results … are neither life nor art. They are taxidermy.” (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961).
“The point of cities is multiplicity of choice.” (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961).
“There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.” (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961).
Other Detroit films:
Detroit Lives (2012)
Detroit, Ruin of a City (2005)
Urban Roots (2010)
“The more successfully a city mingles everyday diversity of uses and users in its everyday streets, the more successfully, casually (and economically) its people thereby enliven and support well-located parks that can thus give back grace and delight to their neighborhoods instead of vacuity.” (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961).