Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Art of Abandonment

My good friend Jon Fasman recently filed a beautiful report for The Economist from Detroit. Amid a lot of sadness, he found some odd and inspiring things being done. But the city is so blighted that it's begun to seem unreal:
Head up Woodward Avenue from McDougall-Hunt and you pass through Midtown, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the city’s main public library. The two institutions are majestic and columned, with the ersatz Roman look that Americans bestow on important civic buildings. The streets have some life, but less than they should; the massive structures and broad streets dwarf strollers. This is an insidious effect of the population decline: after a few days you realize that the city never looks full, and although that can seem a blessing it also makes the city feel like a film set, a representation of the thing rather than the thing itself.

Just west of Woodward and about two miles farther north is the Boston-Edison district, with some 900 homes spread across 36 blocks. In the early 20th century Detroit’s car and steel barons lived there, as did Carl Levin and Sander Levin, who now serve in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively; Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown; and Joe Louis, a heavyweight boxing champion. The houses are stately and grand: not prefabricated but solidly constructed and rich in architectural detail.

Abandonment and neglect have started to spread even in this once-exclusive neighborhood: weeds crack the steps of a broad stone staircase into constellations of sharp polygons; a balcony railing on a second-story window has rusted and sproinged out of its concrete bedding, hanging crazily as if frozen in mid-escape; farther on weeds have taken root in a gutter, causing it to sag beneath the level of the roof and droop perilously above a four-columned front porch and an ornately carved front door.
Read the whole thing.


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