Once America's capitalist dream town, Detroit is our country's greatest urban failure, having fallen the longest and the farthest. But the city's worst crisis yet (and that's saying something) has managed to do the unthinkable: turn the end of days into a laboratory for the future. Urban planners, land speculators, neo-pastoral agriculturalists, and utopian environmentalists - all have been drawn to Detroit's baroquely decaying, nothing-left-to-lose frontier.
With an eye for both the darkly absurd and the radically new, Detroit-area native and Rolling Stone writer Mark Binelli has chronicled this convergence. Throughout the city's "museum of neglect" - its swaths of abandoned buildings, its miles of urban prairie - he tracks the signs of blight repurposed, from the school for pregnant teenagers to the killer ex-con turned street patroller, from the organic farming on empty lots to GM's wager on the Volt electric car and the mayor's realignment plan (the most ambitious on record) to move residents of half-empty neighborhoods into a viable, new urban center.
Sharp and impassioned, Detroit City Is the Place to Be is alive with the sense of possibility that comes when a city hits rock bottom. Beyond the usual portrait of crime, poverty, and ruin, we glimpse a future Detroit that is smaller, less segregated, greener, economically diverse, and better functioning - what might just be the first post-industrial city of our new century.
Back when I was a boy, growing up just outside of Detroit, my friends and I beheld any mention of the city in popular culture with a special thrill. We loved how Detroit was deemed terrifying enough to be chosen as the dystopian locale of RoboCop, the science fiction film set in a coyly undated "near future," when Detroit had become so dangerous that the outsourcing of law enforcement to an armored, heavily weaponized cyborg would seem a prudent and necessary move. And when the producers of Beverly Hills Cop decided to make the hometown of Eddie Murphy's fish-out-of-water detective our ownbecause, after all, what could be more antipodal to Rodeo Drive than Woodward Avenue, what more alien presence to the Beverly Palms Hotel than a black dude from Detroit in a Mumford High T-shirt?we delighted in that, too. We certainly tested the speakers of our American-made Dodge hatchbacks whenever a Detroit song found itself played on one of the competing local rock ...
When Mark Binelli, a native of Detroit, and general assignment reporter, began work on a book about the city, one of his interview subjects asked him if the book was going to be fiction or non-fiction. “Non,” Binelli replied. Binelli writes about the guy’s reaction: "He snorted and said, ‘No one’s gonna believe it.'”
A large portion of Binelli’s engaging book, Detroit City is the Place to Be, covers the stuff that “no one’s gonna believe.” (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
Full Review (1145 words).
Even as Detroit City might be having a rejuvenation of sorts by attracting increasing numbers of artists, it is worth looking back to the Great Depression when a Mexican mural artist, Diego Rivera, created the city's most iconic art: the set of murals known as Detroit Industry.
Back in the early '30s Edsel Ford (son of Henry Ford) was an ardent supporter of the arts. When W.R. Valentiner, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, suggested he commission some art for the museum, Ford decided he would like to capture the spirit of the city's industry through a series of murals for the museum's garden court. Diego Rivera, a renowned Mexican muralist (and known Marxist) was commissioned to create murals for just two segments of the court ...
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