Sunday, July 3, 2011
Diaries from Detroit, vol. 4: The Deserted City
There's a strange pull between normalcy and desperation in Detroit. As I sit and write this on the front porch of my house, about a seventy year-old 2 level duplex split horizontally, the neighborhood is quiet, quaint, and seems healthy. It could be anywhere in America, really. An old-growth pine tree shelters my porch and the one above me. I rock gently in a cool breeze this lazy summer afternoon on a white hanging bench. Neighbors walk by, they're friendly and say hello. Cars packed with families and friends drive slowly by. But if I were to take a quick walk around the block, I would find a very different scene. As I look down the street, I see an empty lot covered in tall, uncut grass. Across the way, an entire block's length of street has only one occupied house. The house on the corner has not a single window unbroken. Some pictures and posters still hang on the walls, flapping in the breeze. Trash blows out from under the fallen front porch when the breeze picks up. Some streets in Detroit hardly leave a trace of the first-world nation they once stood proudly in. Even on my street, the unlit windows of nighttime reveal the empty or abandoned houses. After witnessing a shooting the other night, sporadic pops and bangs startle me as I wonder whether they are fireworks or gunshots, despite being the night before Independence Day.
The wide-spread layout of the city means that anyone in Motown without a car is stranded. There's no mass transit to speak of. The small bus system that does exist is about as reliable as a rain storm in the desert. The most walkable places from my neighborhood are the nightclubs that line Michigan Ave.
Downtown, the scene is eerie. Abandoned lots sit between towering skyscrapers. Many of those skyscrapers are entirely abandoned themselves, standing in a state of ruin. Some of the great monuments of this city, including the Michigan Central Station, are symbols of a once-great civilization in the likes of the Colosseum and the Parthenon.
There is a desperate and ever-present desire for hope in this city. I'd like to think that it is something I am working towards this summer, but I fear my efforts are only going so far. Some places in this city remind me of scenes of New Orleans after Katrina, but its havoc was wreaked by the slow decay of time, so it lacks the sense of national attention.
I have found incredible communities of love here, and groups of people passionately dedicated to this city's revival. But its hard to imagine how this current trajectory could really salvage this place. There needs to be more-- more action, more love, more passion, more community, more growth, more peace. This city needs salvation.