Updated map of Detroit photo locations

I’ve added some small church locations to my Google Map. Unfortunately, the Huggins Community African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the whole row has since burned.

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View Detroit Photos in a larger map

On Belle Isle

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Love Story

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The Penobscot Building

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Homeless

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I recently read this article in the ChronicleHerald, about the plight of the homeless in New Orleans. From the sounds of it, the problem of homelessness and abandonment in New Orleans is at least as bad as it is in Detroit.

And once more, I’ve come across an article exploring the propensity of Detroit supporters to lament “ruin porn”. I think it’s actually one of the better, more reasoned articles on why photographers love to photograph ruins, and in particular why they have spent so much time making images of Detroit’s ruins. It’s not that us photographers all hate Detroit, with a singular desire to help bring the city down by pointing out it’s many visible problems, but that we really like to tell stories, and like writers, a tragic story is often compelling. And what story of urban crises is more tragic than Detroit’s? Furthermore, many of the photographers, film makers, and writers that visit the city, really want to help start the discussion of how to rebuild, or at least change Detroit into something better.

The best quote from the article (in my opinion) is the last paragraph, that puts the onus, not only on the photographers (which is so easy to do), but on everyone, where it more rightly belongs.

“Photographs like Moore, Marchand, and Meffre’s succeed, at least, in compelling us to ask the questions necessary to put this story together—Detroit’s story, but also the increasingly-familiar story of urban America in an era of prolonged economic crisis. That they themselves fail to do so testifies not only to the limitations of any still image, but our collective failure to imagine what Detroit’s future—our collective urban future—holds for us all.”

Smokers suck pt. II

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I’ve said it before, smokers suck. I have a few friends who smoke, and I don’t dislike them, but I do dislike the smoking. I can’t think of too much else that I think is so stupid as to smoke. What’s the point? It’s expensive, it’s horrible for your health, and worse it’s horrible for those around you. I tend believe rights end where they infringe on others. Keep your smoking to yourself. I won’t mention how I have to help pay for your health care costs, because I mountain bike, and play hockey. Both considered risky behavior I suppose, but at least you get an aerobic benefit out of both activities. Smoking has no upsides, other than settlement money helping to keep Michigan afloat a bit longer.

Originally I had complained about Beaumont Hospital’s smokers, since they would come into my neighborhood to smoke, since the Hospital grounds were off limits. I, as a runner, was constantly running through clouds of smoke if I ran on any of the sidewalks that bordered Beaumont. My suggestion was to give the smoking employees an ultimatum; quit smoking, or lose your job. Michigan’s economy was already pretty bad at that time, and considering the number of willing, non-smoking, job seekers that were available, I saw no need to keep the smokers around. After all, it’s a hospital, whose main goal is to cure illness, improve health, and generally make people better. The hospital itself was non-smoking for good reason, so why keep the smoking employees? I do see the problem with firing people over an addiction, but how about low productivity, littering, or endangering other’s health? Legitimate reasons for termination I think.

Well, apparently I’m not alone in my line of thinking. It’s becoming common for hospitals to not only not hire job candidates that smoke, but let current employees go for smoking. Personally, I think it’s going to be tough to fire workers who only smoke on their own time, and away from work, but for those who take eight smoke breaks a day (yes, it happens. I work with some who take at least that many smoke breaks a day), or smokes on the property, or immediately adjacent to it, I say they’re fair game.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

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“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein can be credited with that quote. He was a pretty smart guy, and the quote seems pretty obvious, but for some reason so many seem to keep using a bad process in hopes of a good result. It seems like Michigan and Detroit are guilty of this. How long has the auto industry been in decline? How long has manufacturing been in decline? A lot longer than this recession. How long have we known that a good education is a great predictor of economic well being, and how much does an educated workforce contribute to to economic growth? A long time, and a lot, respectively.

By now, I thought that there would be a lot less about Detroit to be found in the news. Instead it seems like articles just keep coming. Since I’ve had a baby, and had three jobs in the last six months, I’ve found I’m a bit behind on consuming Detroit related news, and articles. Here are a few interesting pieces I’ve come across lately:

Michigan has an inflated view of the quality of its schools according to Michigan Radio. In other words Michigan’s schools aren’t doing very well, and neither are it’s students. The inevitable, looming budget cuts should help.

Also, people just keep leaving Michigan. The upside is this has helped the unemployment rate. This can’t be good for the long term. Housing prices won’t be going up in most of metro Detroit if a trend of declining population continues. The same can be said for services, retail, and a host of other business sectors.

It’s amazing that the debate over mass transit continues. If you read the comments it’s apparent that some believe our roads are not only not subsidized, but are actually profitable, and any other form of subsidized transportation is just the tip of the socialism iceberg.

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Michigan has 800,000 less people employed people now than it did in 2000, has lost half of it’s manufacturing jobs in ten years, and has a $2 billion shortfall. So what does an MSU economist think? Does it matter?

Apparently, “there is more money to made in tearing Detroit down, around 2011, than building it back up…” That’s according to a New York Times review of Paul Clemen’s new book called, Punching Out, One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. Some interesting quotes that should bolster many people’s stereotypes of auto workers include, ““I drank 32 beers the other night”, and “Hell, I don’t even know what e-mail is.” Oh, and of course he hates, like so many others, French photographers who come to shoot “ruin porn”. I hate the term “ruin porn”.

And yet more hating on photographers of “ruin porn”.  The argument that photographers are contributing to Detroit’s problems is most certainly a red herring. As if Dorthea Lange contributed to the Great Depression. People will say bad things about Detroit, photographers will show bad things about it, and the media will report on bad things that happen in it. The author admits that photography of abandonment may raise awareness, but says, “but raising awareness is only useful if it provokes a next step, a move toward trying to fix a problem”. Using that requirement, all of those photographers who showed us the horrors of the wars, and other atrocities committed around the world, could have done some good, if only they’d come up with some solutions. Is it time for observers of Detroit to move on to new subjects? Perhaps. But it is definitely time for Detroit supporters to move beyond what others have to say about, and show of, Detroit. Photographers will photograph disasters, man made or natural, as long as they exist. Until houses and buildings are no longer abandoned faster than good things happen, the “bad” talk, photos, and reporting will continue.

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But, according to the author, at least Johnny Knoxville loves Detroit. There’s not doubt Detroit’s got some pretty cool things going on. It’s not enough for me to move back, nor most people for that matter. But, for those who do move there, and do something special, I’m willing to give credit where credit is due.

Andrew Moore is a photographer mentioned in the above piece in The New Republic. I like his work, and found this video to be pretty interesting. Another interesting video is Views of Detroit by three Danish students. You can see the full film on Vimeo. Interestingly the film states near the beginning, “The film uses a strongly subjective narrative, with no aim to point out answers to the challenges Detroit is currently facing.” Uh, oh…more artists who point out Detroit’s flaws without trying to fix them.

And just as it seems things couldn’t get any worse, Mayor Bing has announced no Robocop statue…What else does Detroit have without Robocop?

One industry that does seem to be doing well, is the film industry, and of course we can’t have that. At least one politician wants to rain on that parade. Not that I’m against a flat tax, but if we’re talking about removing incentives, we’re going to be affecting a lot more than the film industry. Might want to think through the consequences before making that recommendation…unless you’re a Libertarian of course.

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I don’t understand why this complaint keeps coming up. It’s like some in Michigan just don’t get it. Why is anyone surprised that a company is having trouble finding qualified tech workers in Delta Township, Michigan? First of all Michigan is not a hotbed of tech workers. And secondly, Delta Township is going to be even less of a tech worker haven. If you look at a map of Delta Township, you’ll see that’s it borders Lansing (no metropolis mind you), and just to the west is farmland. If you need tech workers, you’d best be located where tech workers live. Michigan may have a high unemployment rate, but if it’s anything like the rest of the country good tech workers aren’t having a very hard time finding work. Being located in Delta Township won’t make finding good tech workers any easier.

According to a study from MSU, “build it and they will come” doesn’t quite work out. It turns out that the people come first, then the jobs. But why would people come? That’s the question. The study is talking more about business travelers, particularly those traveling by air (strange study), than the creative types Richard Florida often talks about. Interestingly, the article says, “the finding does not contradict more direct job-creation strategies, including the construction of office and retail spaces”. Huh? So build, don’t build…what? Of course business travelers won’t come to metro Detroit without a reason. The article also says that the cities least likely to benefit include Detroit. Not so helpful…

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I have an idea. I’ve mentioned it before. Not that it is a new idea, or isn’t already happening, but there is a driven, entrepreneurial, and hardworking population that could reinvigorate Detroit. The group of people would be called immigrants. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ve also linked to an article on Model D about Steve Tobocman before as well, but it’s still a really good idea. Model D has another article by Steve regarding the importance of embracing immigration in Detroit. I personally know some who have trouble with this idea, because gosh darn it, they aren’t just like me. Never mind, that their own ancestors were immigrants too. And they weren’t always welcome either. They were different too.

I recently came across a couple of interesting maps. The first shows the best and worst metro areas for jobs. Of course the Detroit metro area was one of the top five worst. The second is the map of “State Superlatives”. The bad superlative for Michigan is “unemployment”. Not surprising. And the good superlative is “best freshwater access”. There’s no denying that one either. Michigan has got freshwater, and lots of it. The third map shows the concentrations of adults with college degrees. While Michigan looks better than, say, Louisiana, it certainly looks worse than states such as Colorado, or areas on either coast.

And finally a couple of arguments for cities. In any discussion about urban vs. suburban vs. rural living, you’ll find many naysayers who have nothing good to say about cities. Say what you will about them, they are central to the economies of pretty much all nations. Not surprisingly, without a strong city, metro Detroit is, and has struggled for a long time. Turns out concentrations of smart, educated people are good for innovation, and innovation is good for the economy. Who’d have thought?

Rhino

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Fellowship For Christ

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Do you photograph the good parts?

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A minivan pulled up as I got back into my car after photographing this house. “Are you with the film industry”, she asked. “I’m a tailor and sometimes they need those people”, she continued. I told her I wasn’t involved with the movie industry, and she then asked me why I was taking photos of a burned out, abandoned house. My explanation that it’s part of a long term, personal project that I’m working on didn’t seem to satisfy her curiosity. That’s when she asked, “Do you photograph the good parts too, or just the bad parts?”

I really wanted to be able to say I photograph both. Over the years, I have photographed both the good and the bad, but the truth is, lately I primarily photograph the bad parts. Rarely do I focus on the good anymore. I know there are good things happening in the city, but I don’t show them. I suppose it’s easier to just drive downtown with my limited time, and photograph the things that I see along the way. Which is pretty much what I do. It’s partly convenience, but it’s also the reality of many people’s experiences with the city. It’s hard to enter the city from any direction, on any road or freeway, and not be blown away by the amount of abandonment and decay. After more than thirty years of living in the area, I know I am still shocked by what I see in the city.

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I don’t live in the area anymore, and I find the same uniqueness, and grittiness that supposedly makes Detroit so great is everywhere. Grittiness isn’t Detroit’s secret ingredient, it’s simply a nice way of saying it’s a hard place to live. Who needs that? I’m happy for those who love the area, and truly feel they belong here, but life can be a challenge without having to fight dysfunction every step of the way.

So, do I photograph the good parts too? No. Not right now. I’d really like to, but I think I still need more distance. I need to become even more of an outsider. Unfortunately coming back to the area still brings out bitterness. I like projects such as the “walk-in portrait studio” , The Power House, and the Russell Industrial Center, but some heralded establishments are only unique because they happen to be in Detroit. In any other city, it would just be one more good place to go.

The good, and interesting things in Detroit don’t make up for streets like Robinwood, where a resident said about his situation, “It would be Hell if I was dead, but I ain’t. So that just makes the place ugly. The most ugly thing that human beings can create.” Unfortunately, Robinwood, wasn’t, and certainly isn’t, the worst street in Detroit. In some places six families would be considered a high number for a street. While the woman who asked me if I photograph the good parts said that there were good things happening in Detroit, she also mentioned there were only a few houses left on her side of the street she lived on.