Join 3,363 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Detroit Public Schools Book Depository
January 22, 2008 8:54 PM   Subscribe

"This is a building where our deeply-troubled public school system once stored its supplies, and then one day apparently walked away from it all, allowing everything to go to waste...All that's left is an overwhelming sense of knowledge unlearned and untapped potential." (Via Making Light.)
posted by ottereroticist (57 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gosh, these are beautiful.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:00 PM on January 22, 2008


Those photographs are amazing. After reading the blog post, I know I'm not supposed to say it... but that place makes me feel so sad.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:03 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post.

We live in an absurd society.

So many ills could be remedied by supplying a decent education. But no, gimme a $3.45 tax cut any day.
posted by mattoxic at 9:15 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Great post. I mourn Detroit and all of its communities. Thanks otto E-
posted by localhuman at 9:20 PM on January 22, 2008


It makes me think of the Fabulous Ruins Of Detroit.
posted by pinky at 9:29 PM on January 22, 2008


Forgotten Detroit is also a great site.
posted by ryanhealy at 9:34 PM on January 22, 2008


That blog post makes me angry. People aren't supposed to feel sad when they see an empty city? The MCS and the school book depository (and the Dequindre Cut, and the Lee Plaza, among others) are symbols of a city that once held 2,000,000 and is nearing a third of that total, most of whom are trapped in one of the most dysfunctional post-industrial cities that America has to offer. Yes, it's sad to see abandoned places -- especially in Detroit, where the abandonment was bankrolled by the federal government and enabled by the same product that brought the city to greatness. And now 800,000 people (many more nationwide) are suffering the effects that come with the corresponding racial and economic segregation.
posted by ofthestrait at 9:46 PM on January 22, 2008


Wow that was really good, photo and the blog. This line in particular stands out to me

Can decay be something more than sentimental? Can it ever be beautiful? Can it just be respected for what it is, and not further corrupted by our emotions?
posted by oblio_one at 9:48 PM on January 22, 2008


Saw this on Boing Boing the other day. This picture is particularly poignant.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:57 PM on January 22, 2008


My city of Melboune used to be Australia's factory, and the inner city suburbs are full of old mills and boot factories that have been turned into housing for young people with far more money than I ever had.

I often wonder what the workers do now. Sit at home and sell on eBay I suppose. I just can't see what sustains our society. Everyone seems to be so rich these days.
posted by mattoxic at 10:01 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm still working out the levels in this photo.
posted by freebird at 10:17 PM on January 22, 2008


Rumple pointed to this in the recent Book Scavenging in New York thread.
posted by Chuckles at 10:30 PM on January 22, 2008


People talk about wanting to colonize the Moon or Mars or whatever . . . how about our fucking inner cities first?

I'm not talking throwing money at the matrix of challenges involved necessarily, but national will.

Gil Scott Heron got it right.
posted by panamax at 10:51 PM on January 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


This picture is particularly poignant.

The beauty is added to by the way in which the tagger added his or her initials.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:51 PM on January 22, 2008


Sorry. Can't gaze on this corpse with any joy. I was born in Detroit, raised in the plenty that was the American Automotive Industry. I have since watched (thankfully, mostly from afar) the demise and decline. I harbor bitterness all round.

I recall the time, in the late 70's, when the fastest growing newspaper in Flint (if not Michigan) was the Sunday paper from Houston, as people sought jobs in that then-booming economy. This was just before I finally left. I will always recall Kevin Sufel. Someone I did not know, who sold his record albums to the used store in town, then headed for Texas, in hope of work and the chance at a real life. He died on the way, sleeping in a car. I own his old LP of "Dark Side of the Moon". I consider the loss tragic, he was one that had the guts to leave without any security. A real American, still alive with the spirit of our pioneer past.

I harbor a different emotion, also. One in response to the knowledge that there are those who regret that hurricanes don't make it that far north.
posted by Goofyy at 12:49 AM on January 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Looks like my bedside table - writ large.
posted by rongorongo at 12:53 AM on January 23, 2008


Detroit really has cornered the market on urban decay and depopulation hasn't it? Tell you who I feel really sorry for though: it's for all those second division rust belt cities that are not only rotting away, but doing so without the benefit of weekly why-oh-why stories in the news.
posted by rhymer at 2:14 AM on January 23, 2008


Is this some anti-assassination plan by filling the book depositorys with rubbish?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:54 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can decay be something more than sentimental? Can it ever be beautiful? Can it just be respected for what it is, and not further corrupted by our emotions?

Of course it can. When it's vast quantities of educational materials that are decaying, that's asking a lot. Also, just how is it "further corrupted by our emotions"?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:05 AM on January 23, 2008


but doing so without the benefit of weekly why-oh-why stories in the news.

Benefit? Fat lot of good all the attention has done for Detroit's economy.
posted by mkb at 4:05 AM on January 23, 2008


I wonder if it's really a bad thing that Detroit is dying. Not that I think it's a good thing, but perhaps it's just the natural progress of history. Some cities like Detroit fade away and others, like Miami, thrive and grow. Why not conclude that this process simply doesn't need to have a moral dimension?
posted by oddman at 4:09 AM on January 23, 2008


Hey oddman: because people still live here, dumbshit. I mean no offense (really!) but that sort of abstract talk is about as grating as a high school sophomore waxing poetic about The Fountainhead. Some of us are here of our own accord, others (i.e., the majority) simply cannot afford to leave. And for those of us in either position, your banal generalities-cum-defeatism are precisely part of the problem. But like I said, whatever: I mean no offense.

Hey Gooffy, I'd like to believe it's the whiskey talking, but we (i.e., Detroit) don't need you so don't get all bent out of shape about not having tears to spare for your hometown or anything. We're already way too busy reinventing the city from the inside-out to bother holding your hand or giving a shit, frankly, about what a former Detroiter, now-Texan, has to say about the place. If you liked it, you had your chance to stick around and make it better. If you didn't, then why the fuck post about it to begin with?

My condolences (sincere) to Kevin, but if you honestly believe there's only one record store in Detroit then maybe you need to do a little more research before you shit all over the place that some of us still call home.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:35 AM on January 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


... and that is what you call a flame-out, friends. Goodnight.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:37 AM on January 23, 2008


Well, mace in one hand and Weena in the other, I went out of that gallery and into another and still larger one, which at the first glance reminded me of a military chapel hung with tattered flags. The brown and charted rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well enough. Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified.

- HG Wells, The Time Machine; the explorer in the smashed libraries of an illiterate future.
posted by WPW at 4:43 AM on January 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


...but perhaps it's just the natural progress of history. Some cities like Detroit fade away and others, like Miami, thrive and grow.

Detroit's apparent death was/is not the result of some natural progress. Rather, it's the direct result of complete mis-management and greed on the part of its leaders and, most especially, on the part of the executives who run the industries that built the city. Those same executives get lavished with millions of dollars in bonuses and the shiniest of golden parachutes while allowing the industry they are entrusted with to crumble and decay.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:51 AM on January 23, 2008


Things I've Learned Today:

Flint &ne Detroit
Texas &ne South Africa
Joe &ne Coherent

But really, (Gooffy-) dude: it's not like I go 'round mentioning apartheid every time South Africa comes up in the blue or anything. I'm sorry if my initial response was harsh, but if you didn't bother to better your hometown before fleeing, the least you could do is refrain from shit-talking about "the corpse" in your absence. Those of us with a stake in this place would appreciate it coming from someone who (ostensibly) has roots here. I'm not nearly as upset as this medium makes it seem. Peace.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:54 AM on January 23, 2008


Bloody hell. &ne = "not equal to," no duh.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:55 AM on January 23, 2008


and others, like Miami, thrive and grow

Before Katrina, the NOAA reckoned that the top two cities for hurricane vulnerability were Miami and New York City. New Orleans was third. Just sayin'.
posted by localroger at 5:23 AM on January 23, 2008


Sheesh, sounds to me like joe lisboa lives in a shithole
posted by mattoxic at 5:24 AM on January 23, 2008


All this just makes me want to move to Detroit. Again. Abandoned buildings? Decay? And a chance at a Phoenix-like rise from the ashes into something even cooler, like applied permaculture?

If only it wasn't so damn cold there. I guess I'll just have to wait here for the big quake to shake it all down. That, or try New Orleans.
posted by loquacious at 5:36 AM on January 23, 2008


Detroit began its long slide downhill with the riots of 1967. From that point on, many of those who lived outside the city were afraid to cross into Detroit/Motown/MurderCity/The "D". The decline of the auto industry as this country embraced imports didn't help, nor does the fact that there hasn't been a strong or honest leader in the City for a very long time.

For those of us that live just outside of Detroit, we enter the city like a hamster in a habitrail. We take the little tunnels that are the freeways, through the blight, boarded up buldings, and empty lots to pop out at Comerica Stadium or Ford Field, or the Joe. After the game we get into our SUV's and head back to Ann Arbor, Gross Point, Bloomfield Hills, Novi, and the like, and breath a sigh of relief once we cross 8 mile or US 23.

I don't know what the answer is for Detroit, especially now when the state of Michigan is in such terrible shape that it can't help with some sort of revitalization.

I'm afraid that Detroit hasn't hit the bottom yet.
posted by HuronBob at 5:44 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Funny how when people make comic book movies, Gotham is usually made to resemble New York. I always think Detroit. Was great, now ruined through mismanagement and economic collapse.

What saddens me is the waste. Sure, a current events book from the 80s is not going to be useful today, history books will be outdated, and science books will be behind the times, but there is no way that the volume of texts left to rot contained not a single useful item. English language, math, etc. texts are updated primarily to sell new volumes, not because any amazing new information has been discovered.

Even outdated books can be used, of course. In high school, one of my classes used texts that ended American history with Nixon as president. I found it funny because I was born during that presidency. While it made it difficult for our teacher to cover American political history in the 80s, he managed, and of course nothing stopped us from learning about anything prior to Nixon using the book. Leaving pallets of books to simply rot is criminal. I cannot understand the thinking that allowed this to happen.

I was born in Michigan. I've been to Detroit many times. I have a lot of friends who live and work in and around Detroit. Everything I hear from them, and everything I have seen for myself, makes me feel that the city deserves better. Better leadership, better schools, better future hopes, but so far it isn't happening, and it's still left to rot while the mayor hosts parties in the mansion for his entourage.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:46 AM on January 23, 2008


So many ills could be remedied by supplying a decent education. But no, gimme a $3.45 tax cut any day.

I think I want this on a bumper sticker.
posted by Reverend John at 6:00 AM on January 23, 2008


Thanks for the post. As the above links to Fabulous Ruins and other sites show, decay and ruin are all too common in Detroit.

I just talked to my dad yesterday, who still lives in the Detroit pit of a neighborhood I grew up in. He told me that not long ago he heard some suspicious sounds outside, so he went out to investigate. Someone was ripping the aluminum siding off of his house to sell it for scrap! The guy took off when he saw my dad's gun. What a city!
posted by The Deej at 6:03 AM on January 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Great post, lots of food for thought. Thanks.

That blog post makes me angry. People aren't supposed to feel sad when they see an empty city?

I don't think you read it very carefully.
Of course, I sometimes share a sense of sadness, but still I wonder: why is it "sad" for a building to be left to decay if there is no one willing to use it? ... I'd like to believe I am much more saddened by people whose lives fall apart than I am by crumbling stones or plaster. Sadly, social decay is just so much more easy to ignore, and not as prettily exposed with the lens of a camera.
Sorry if that's too complicated a sentiment for you.
posted by languagehat at 6:42 AM on January 23, 2008


I was stationed in Texas in the mid 80's and remember seeing T-shirts that read "Will the last person to leave Michigan please turn out the lights?"

Having recently fled the last family farm in Iowa, I allowed myself an empathetic chuckle.
posted by neat-o at 7:07 AM on January 23, 2008


Isn't it terribly old-fashioned to even have a "school book despository" anyhow? Every moment that a school book (or most anything, really) spends in a warehouse is a wasted moment. One day, we may look back on the very existence of buildings like this one as symbols of decadance and waste.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:34 AM on January 23, 2008


Tell you who I feel really sorry for though: it's for all those second division rust belt cities that are not only rotting away, but doing so without the benefit of weekly why-oh-why stories in the news.

Like my hometown of St. Louis, perhaps?

From the article :
But one city stands out in the crowd --- St. Louis, which has dropped not 50 percent, but 61 percent. Not since the Romans leveled Carthage has a city lost so much of its population. In 1950, St. Louis was the nation's eighth largest city, with 857,000 residents. By 1999, the US Census Bureau was estimating the population at 334,000, down 523,000. More people have left St. Louis than live in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver or Cleveland. The population of St. Louis has dipped to the lowest level since the mid-1870s. Now St. Louis ranks as the nation's 50th largest city, behind, for example, Fresno, Mesa (Arizona) and Colorado Springs, none of which had 100,000 residents in 1950.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:44 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good lord, I had no idea about St. Louis. That's awful.
posted by languagehat at 8:00 AM on January 23, 2008


Every moment that a school book (or most anything, really) spends in a warehouse is a wasted moment.

Or an end-of-term vacation. One of those two.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:11 AM on January 23, 2008


It would be wonderful if this were just a symptom of America's cancer, Detroit. But as a Chicago photographer recently proved, this problem may be more widespread.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:23 AM on January 23, 2008


Gee, joe lisboa, are you an example of Detroit education? You should read my post, only carefully. You got it totally wrong, in all kinds of ways, not the least of which your notion that I have no tears to spare.

As for "sticking around": Why would I have bothered? As a guy in my early 20's, I couldn't get a god damned job in Michigan, because I didn't own an f'ing car. I packed up the cat and moved to a place were that didn't matter, and I could earn a living. Is there some secret formula for "doing something" that doesn't involve paying rent and eating food? Those were my realities. Or do you think it's somehow morally superior to stick around, and work 2 or 3 minimum wage jobs?

Do something? What have you done to better the place? And what do you know of me, or what I have done in the years before I left? Why do I feel so certain the answer to both questions is "nothing"?
posted by Goofyy at 8:25 AM on January 23, 2008


ormondsacker: Or an end-of-term vacation. One of those two.
Do municipal school systems really spend money trucking books from schools to a warehouse in the summer, then from the warehouse to schools again in the fall?
posted by Western Infidels at 8:40 AM on January 23, 2008


I left Flint as soon as I possibly could. I have friends who stayed and are trying to rejuvenate the city and I totally respect that. But. There are no jobs and precious few opportunities left in Michigan, especially Flint/Detroit. I don't think it makes you a bad person to do what it takes to not just survive this life, but thrive. Every summer when I go back to see what family is left, I am awe struck with just how depressing, dirty and forlorn Flint is these days. Even landing in the Detroit airport, which is just AWFUL, depresses the hell out of me. SO hey Goofyy, kudos for making a better life for yourself while being able to feel something other than outright disgust with yoyr hometown. I hope to get there someday but as of now, Flint just makes me angry.
posted by yodelingisfun at 9:08 AM on January 23, 2008


Good lord, I had no idea about St. Louis. That's awful.

Yeah, STL is a pretty weird city. It more-or-less typifies the modern "urban doughnut." The city itself has largely been discarded. You walk around downtown STL, and it's just dead. Nobody walking around, nobody doing things, just nobody and nothing. The demographic loss really starts to make sense once you explore the north side of the city. You could just hang a sign on it that says, "People Used to Live Here." But there's really no need to, since the signs are everywhere - people openly selling crack out of vans, blocks where 40% of the houses are abandoned, the ubiquitous abandoned factories standing on the land that they despoiled. There's even a part of the city that's semi-officially known as "The Depressed Sector." I shit you not.

And of course, it's very, very segregated. Delmar boulevard has long been the informal "deviding line" between the north and south sides of the city. North being black, south being white. South St. Louis can be semi-redneck, but is still mostly middle-class. The North side is more-or-less distilled urban blight.

Surrounding St. Louis City is St. Louis County, where most of the people and jobs are. In 1876, in a monumental act of short-sightedness, the city fathers decided that St. Louis should secede from St. Louis County. This pretty much sealed the deal for STL. Once white flight started to pick up in the 1960s, all of the money left the city for the County. The County is made up of over 100 little municipalities and towns, all of which have their own tax bases. This means - you guessed it- none of the money ever makes it to the city. Clayton, the financial district? Not part of the city. University City, where Wash U is? Not part of the city. Ladue, where all the *really* rich people live? Hah, you've got to be kidding. Not part of the city.

They did a similar thing in Baltimore, and we all know how that turned out.

And of course, the north/south segregation and wealth disparity extends out into the County. South County, once again, has quite a few rednecks (who, for weird historical reasons, are referred to in St. Louis as "hoosiers"), but is still mostly middle class. But largely-African-American North County, on the other hand.... god help the people who live there. I don't think I ever saw more crushing poverty in my life. Maybe on the East Side.

It doesn't help that in the mid-20th century, they built an extensive highway system that actually serves the suburbs pretty well. Coupled with a lack of viable public transportation, the result is a city where you absolutely cannot function without a car. St. Louis is a "hollow city," one that rivals Atlanta, Detroit, and Jacskonville in urban sprawl. It's as if they dropped a bomb in the middle of the city and people had to move out to the edges to escape the fallout. I'm not exaggerating. The city is home to 334,000. The County? 1,000,000.

In the time I lived in STL, I lived in some of the wealthiest neighborhoods, some of the most impoverished, and a couple that were actually kinda cool.

In the end, I got a job in NYC after graduating college and never looked back. Places like NYC are made for people like me - misfits and outcasts who never fit in anywhere. You can survive in the Midwest as a deviant, but it's an uphill battle. Even though STL is the most liberal city in MO (not counting college towns), it's still a remarkably conservative place. I feel that at least some of the city's failure to find creative solutions to their predicament is the entrenched, inescapable, linear-thinking mindset that I found all too common during my years there.

BTW - if you're really interested, I reccomend Franzen's book The 27th City. Besides being an excellent book, Franzen is from the city and knows it pretty well.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:33 AM on January 23, 2008 [13 favorites]


Sheesh, sounds to me like joe lisboa lives in a shithole.

Not all of us were born down under, "mate."
posted by joe lisboa at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2008


Good lord, I had no idea about St. Louis. That's awful.

Wow! Neither did I. When Detroit's population fell under a million I thought that was remarkable. But, yeah, that's nothing compared to the fall of STL.
posted by The Deej at 9:48 AM on January 23, 2008


Why do I feel so certain the answer to both questions is "nothing"?

Because you've already made up your mind?
posted by joe lisboa at 9:51 AM on January 23, 2008


This means - you guessed it- none of the money ever makes it to the city. Clayton, the financial district? Not part of the city. University City, where Wash U is? Not part of the city. Ladue, where all the *really* rich people live? Hah, you've got to be kidding. Not part of the city.

Wow. I just hauled out the Rand McNally city map I picked up years ago when I was trying to locate all the old ballparks in cities that had ever had a major league team (I see the old Red Stockings of the 1870s played on Compton Ave. a couple blocks north of Chouteau in an area now covered by train tracks), and for the first time my brain is interpreting the maze of colored areas to the left (west) of the white (er, that is, uncolored) downtown area as "not part of the city" and drawing the appropriate conclusions. Wow. Thanks for the capsule lesson in urban history.
posted by languagehat at 11:28 AM on January 23, 2008


Here's the depository building on Live Search Maps. It almost looks like it's in use due to the phalanx of trucks parked alongside, which are probably a local business getting away with something (strange as there's plenty of room nearby for parking lots). The aerial view makes clear it has trees growing through the roof, though.
posted by dhartung at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2008


Not all of us were born down under, "mate."

Zing
posted by mattoxic at 2:25 PM on January 23, 2008


When I looked at those pictures, I had an eerie sense that I was looking at our future. I also got flashes of the world depicted in the Kubrick movie, "A Clockwork Orange".
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:47 PM on January 23, 2008


Metafilter: mace in one hand and Weena in the other
sorry, had to
posted by Smedleyman at 4:53 PM on January 23, 2008


Meta.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:05 PM on January 23, 2008


My "wealthiest" link was supposed to go here, not some weird place in England.

(feels silly)
posted by Afroblanco at 11:36 PM on January 23, 2008


All of these posts about decaying Detroit make me want to move there.
posted by astruc at 1:38 AM on January 24, 2008


Detroit is awesome -- its mayor orders the firing a Deputy Police Chief investigating improprieties by the mayor himself, which leads to an $8 million whistleblower verdict against the city. During the trial, the mayor denies having an affair with his chief of staff. Today, text messages are released showing that the mayor did, in fact, admit to firing the cop (in contrast to his testimony), and did have an affair with the chief of staff (in contrast to his -- and her -- testimony). So now he'll probably face perjury charges.

And the city continues to fall apart. (Note: I love Detroit, and go there as often as I can -- but I admit that I go to the casino, or to a baseball or hockey game, or to a museum, and then drive back. In other words, it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there).
posted by pardonyou? at 7:00 AM on January 24, 2008


« Older The Top 5 Game-Inspired Music Videos (via, with on...  |  Chief Marie Smith Jones, 1919... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments