Business, News, People

There’s More To Detroit Than A Slideshow

There’s been a rerun of a stunning slide show of despair making the rounds on the Guardian newspaper’s website. The pictures are from a project begun five years ago and the Guardian has run many of these photos before.

It’s part of a book project by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, who came into town and obviously had an artistic agenda — to make a book on Detroit’s ruins inspired by a photo they first saw on the internet. As the photographers point out on their website ruins are temporary and ephemeral by nature.

Frankly, thanks to the recent recession, you can find empty storefronts and structures all across America. However, accounts that downtown Detroit is “lined” with abandoned buildings are greatly exaggerated. Walk down most of the streets in our core areas and you will find most every building is alive. As you walk to visit Rowland Cafe or Pure Detroit in the Guardian building, you find both teaming with life. A short distance away at the ballpark, there are a few vacant buildings nearby… but to say lined with empty buildings? au contraire.

You can’t know any city by looking through only one lens. Since most of the comments and coverage mention downtown particularly, there are multiple buildings downtown (like the Kales, or Madison) that just a few years ago were vacant but are now alive. Add in the new construction and there are signs of new life on every block downtown.

Admittedly, a book about ruins — especially one so artistically shot — will probably sell well. With tens of thousands of shares on that site, the public imagination has been captured by the empty and often hauntingly beautiful parts.  What is missing are the rest of the people, places, and ideas needed for a balanced picture.

What doesn’t get covered as much is that over the last decade, Detroit has made great strides and the improvement is accelerating. It is too bad there was no mention of the Book Cadillac hotel, rescued from ruin and certain demolition, that now commands 5 stars. Interestingly the Broderick Tower, slides 7 and 13 in the Guardian slide show, will soon be reborn thanks to the construction crews that will begin rebuilding it very soon. However, once rebuilt it’s no longer a ruin and no longer the lead story.

Further down Woodward in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood, with the help of the UCCA and Wayne State University, the city looks a lot more like Toronto than the oft-compared to Tehran.

Yes, Detroit has serious problems and we have a very tall order ahead. No doubt. We need to embrace those problems and solve them together as there is much work to be done. But it’s not just one story in this city or region. Remember, you can fit Paris three and a half times in the land area of just the city of Detroit.

In the very near future, there will be a flood of stories on the doers and the makers of things that are happening. And it’s important to tell that story because people knowing about the projects and people helps with interest, support, and funding, which allows for more doing to get done. It’s a virtuous cycle.

If you actually look closely at the causes one sees that there was no “one” thing that brought Detroit to the condition it’s in today. It was a combination of many, many factors. It’s human nature and convenient to blame one thing for the cause of anything, and it lets our mind easily compartmentalize problems, but it’s rarely, if ever, the whole truth.

Folks in some corners rail against a city they never visited or spent little time in years ago. Many in our own region do the same, because of what they fly by on the freeway. Projects like The Detroit Shoppe have been introducing people to places that didn’t exist very long ago. Other endeavors like photo walks, enable people to go around and introduce themselves to new-to-them places in their own backyard and share their discoveries with others. Here are some photos from one photo walks focused on murals. The next photo walk is going to be at the Fisher Building.

Heck, here, you can even get wine delivered to your door on a bike and order it through Twitter. If that isn’t the people embracing the future I don’t know what is.

That’s why we’re starting “Scene on the Spokes” and “Ruins to Rebound.”

Not only have we been shooting video and photos of the places on the rebound, we invite you to submit yours too. In 2011, we hope to show you more than just the steady diet of ruins that so many who talk about Detroit regurgitate. There are lots of people who live, work and play and are proud of their region.  And the great thing about how the news hub works?  With attribution, it is all available for you to share and use in your posts and stories.

To give you an example of what we’ve done in the past, check out a video we did after the Romney House demolition occurred, where the national narrative was a “famous” house was coming down in a distressed area. You’ll see the area is anything but ruined.  It’s proud, it’s beautiful, it’s well-kept and it’s one of many examples that there is much more to the Detroit story. Let’s tell it together in 2011.

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5 comments on “There’s More To Detroit Than A Slideshow

  1. “However, accounts that downtown Detroit is “lined” with abandoned buildings are greatly exaggerated. Walk down most of the streets in our core areas and you will find most every building is alive.”

    I’d say that’s mostly you’re exaggeration, not everyone else’s – unless you’re including large swaths of parking lots that used to be abandoned buildings as “alive”.

    I don’t think you’d be able to go more than a quarter of a mile down any street I can think of in Detroit without running into a building that is either abandoned, or has no tenants, and hasn’t for a long time, except in the area immediately surround Greektown casino – and you’ll still find several empty spots in and amongst the buildings that are right around there. Even the casino itself can’t keep tenants in their own areas.

  2. @Eric – Sure, there's buildings that are empty. And there are more surface lots than there should be. But not every building in other cities are filled right now either, and a lot more has been filled in the past years than in a long time. It's no panacea, but it's not the wasteland portrayed and there's lot of people in those places. I think in any situation you find what you're looking to find.

    Check out this tour by Becks Davis, for instance. Tell me that's all screwed up. It's simply not, has plenty of people working (and some living) around there, and it barely touches on Monroe street (and when it does it's away from Greektown – FYI to others, one of the streets Greektown Casino is on is Monroe street).

    Not once was it said it was perfect. It's not. There's work to do. But the story of every place in Detroit is a destroyed wasteland and there's nothing happening is incorrect.

    @Amy – thanks!

  3. Eric,
    Greektown is a great destination with the casino, restaurants & bars but you need to see more of Detroit.

    Downtown Detroit, The Newshub linked to my post in the previous comment, has a lot going on. Quicken Loans has moved into the Compuware Building and the Guardian Building is near capacity. The 'tour' I put together lists 11 buildings in that small area and there are many that I left out.

    Midtown is also thriving.

    You're doing some exaggerating yourself, sir.

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