Archive for the 'poverty' Category

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.”

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.

Castle House burns down

I was always amazed that the house in Brush Park, known as the Castle House, had survived pretty much intact all these years. Unfortunately it now joins many other once beautiful houses that have been razed. According to the Detroit Free Press, the house burned down this morning, and was knocked down this evening.

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Fear over downsizing

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Some people can’t help themselves, some can’t accept the help of others, and some will never be happy. The latter category is apparently the camp some Detroiters fit into. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a lot of residents fear what downsizing…I mean “right sizing” will mean for them and their neighborhoods. Because as things stand now, a plan to actually do something is more scary than the present plan, which is to allow the city to continue its long decline towards oblivion.

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Yes, some may have to move from the home they love. And no, the gestapo will not drag you from your house. But once the city consolidates services, your one house neighborhood may be, by all intents and purposes, abandoned (like it isn’t already?).  “Of course you don’t have to evict people to force them to move…” That statement is true of course. At some point some residents may have to move. Like it or not, the road ahead is going long and rough. Many will not be happy, but is anybody happy with the present circumstances?

City of Highland Park: Working For You

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The photo above was take in October of 2004. The below image is, presumably, somewhat newer.


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Updated map of abandonment

Many houses have been torn down since I last updated the map.


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The abandoned neighborhood of the week

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They got chains, but they all tucked in…

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More Detroit vs. The Media drama, and What Detroit has, what Detroit’s losing, and what Detroit needs

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This was supposed to have been posted a week, or so, ago. But thanks to my old job, four days out of town, jury duty, and a new job to start, none of what’s here is new. But, since I went to the trouble to write it, I’m posting it anyway.

Detroit vs The Media

The drama never ends for Detroit. NBC hates Detroit, and now ABC as well. ABC’s new crime drama set in Detroit has got some all bent out of shape once again. As always there were some interesting comments including:
“Why must the media prortray Detroit is such a bad light.” - Do we always have to ask this question? Seriously, is there any question as to why the media portrays the city the way that it does? Besides, did anyone complain about Law and Order making New York look bad, or CSI making Vegas look bad? Detroit deserves a break because it really is that bad? If only the media would give Detroit a break, surely things would improve. There were, as always, so interesting comments.

“Perhaps a chat with the directors of ABC would change their mind.” - Doubt it. Why do Detroiters always want to have a chat with the media about the way the city is portrayed? And, anyway how would that conversation go? Detroiter - “Will you to stop portraying Detroit in a negative light?” ABC exec - “No.”

“And I think the promo is wrong in saying that Detroit is the murder capital. I think we are up there, but more like number 3. New Orleans is #1″ - Yeah, take that ABC. They really ought to get their facts straight. Oh wait, according to ABC Detroit was the murder capital in 2008…hmm coincidence or conspiracy to paint Detroit badly?

“Was anything truthful said? Or is it Americas’ loss of integrity personified.” - Huh?

“I’m as sensitive to Detroit’s image as anyone, but I think that viewers will be able to decipher this as fiction.” - One might think so, but judging by reactions, that sentiment is not shared by many others.”

“So i can understand why ABC is doing a crime series set in Detroit.It’s about time. What took so long? I think I’ll send them some story ideas. I have many, too many, & these are all true, nothing make-believe.” - This one makes sense..

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What Detroit Has

What does Detroit have, beyond high unemployment, high crime rates, and bitter defenders? Well according to POP City, Detroit has a few things Pittsburgh ( and presumably, other Rust Belt cities ) could use. Of course POP City is owned by Issue Media Group, which also just happens to publish Model D and Metromode as well, booth of which ardent Detroit boosters. Nonetheless, perhaps there are some good things that Detroit has, that other places could use. According to POP City, Detroit has:

The Greening of Detroit:

I can imagine that almost no other city in the United States has an organization quite like the Greening of Detroit, of course no other city has the amount of abandoned land that Detroit has. I like the Greening of Detroit and what they do.

Tech Town:

Tech Town is a great idea, and I hope some great things come of it. Bringing smart, creative, and innovative people together is exactly what Detroit needs. Technology may make it possible to work in isolation in Bad Axe, but in reality innovation comes from people pushing the envelope, and building on one another’s successes. This doesn’t often happen in isolation. It’s the reason Silicon Valley, Boston, and NYC keep creating new companies, and why they get so much of the investment dollars.

The M-1 Rail Project:

Detroit doesn’t have this yet. It is hoped that construction will begin before the end of 2010. Unfortunately, it takes several years to complete a section of rail through an urban area, and in an area that continues to lose population, it’ll will be difficult to make it happen.

Art:

Detroit does have this, and some good stuff at that. But projects such as the Heidelberg Project are products of an extreme situation that nobody wants. I really like the Heidelberg Project, but I’d rather not have the massive amounts of blight and abandonment that has to go along with it.

A Food Scene:

I can’t comment on Pittsburgh’s food scene, but Detroit’s food scene is decent, but not incredible. I love Slow’s but, even cities with lower populations, such as Denver and Portland, have better food scenes than Detroit. Five or six places…even a dozen good places aren’t enough for an area the size of Detroit.

Regardless of whether or not I feel this list is a good example of what other areas need or not (I don’t), the metropolitan Detroit area does have somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5 million residents. That’s a significant amount of people, who could be customers, and employees or employers. Whether or not the area can capitalize on that depends on the decisions the residents, businesses, and politicians make over the next decade or so. If we were to look to the decisions of the past 40 years the outlook would be rather grim. Perhaps though, the next generation of policy makers can make better decisions than the last.

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What Detroit’s Losing

Unfortunately this is an easy one. Detroit’s losing everything from people to money. What is really bad, is that metro Detroit is losing young college grads. I recently read this article about college education rates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Scroll down to the section titled, “By the Numbers”. My guess is Detroit doesn’t compare very well, even considering Milwaukee’s meager numbers.

What Detroit Needs

What Detroit needs is pretty much the inverse of what it’s losing, including a young, educated workforce, immigrants, Innovation, and, well…pretty much everything. Recovery seems to be a tricky, chicken/egg situation. Hi tech businesses locate where the talent is. Talent locates where the jobs are. Jobs are found where the hi tech businesses are. With each being a prerequisite for the other, how do you attract either one to Detroit? This is one of the arguments many make against authors such as Richard Florida. Reading what urban theorists such as Florida have to say make many feel that the”in” places, such as Chicago, D.C., and Silicon Valley, have already won. There’s no possible way to beat them if you take Florida’s theories without actually reading far enough. And that’s true to a certain extent. Nobody was able to beat Detroit as the automotive capital for 75 years or so, even with such bad management decisions. However, that didn’t stop Chicago, D.C., or Silicon Valley, and many, many other places, from thriving. Detroit doesn’t have to be Chicago, but it does have to be something other than the same old Detroit we’ve all known for far too long.

The abandoned house of the week

Over the years I’ve received plenty of email from former Detroiters. Recently one asked if I would visited his old street. On this very long block, only about a half dozen houses still stood, and only one appeared to be occupied, although it was in only marginally better condition than the unoccupied ones. This was one of the abandoned houses on the block. Painted an optimistic blue and yellow color combination, it, along with several others appeared to have been recently abandoned.

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