August 16, 2000
10:18 AM   Subscribe

Now I'm depressed. I'd seen The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit site before, but never really looked around. It was well worth the hour I spent there. Then I wandered over to Modern Ruins. We're a destructive species, aren't we? We don't even value the things we create...
posted by Aaaugh! (6 comments total)
Uhm... Michigan is still close to my heart. I gotta lotta family there. I lived the formidable years of my childhood there. We are a destructive species, but we're also a creative species, and sometimes one just has to know when to hold em and when to fold em. When to stand and when to walk away.

Anyone who's seen Michael Moore's Roger and Me documentary film knows the story behind these "ruins." It's quite a history actually. Also anyone who has lived in Michigan any time in the past thirty years has seen first hand. I've done both. As a child I remember visiting The Henry Ford Museum and being blown away with the wealth of history Michigan has.

But the "ruins" in question are as they are today because they served their purpose and the car companies and other corporations moved out of them. To me, mourning their passing is like clinging to a shirt you have had since high school which is now filled with holes and no longer even suitable for wearing around the house while doing chores. If you must keep your worn out clothes, fine. They take up little room. The warehouses and factory buildings in question are hulking behemoths which take up precious property and in many cases are so old and dangerous to use they should be condemned anyway.

Detroit has to realize it is no longer the car manufacturing capital of the world. Instead of clinging to the past, it needs to build for itself a new future. And that doesn't mean turning it into a tourist trap. It's suffered harshly at the hands of Big Business over the decades. All Michigan can do now is lick its wounds and move forward. Don't Look Back.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:56 AM on August 16, 2000

And while its author (and esteemed MeFi member) is dealing with more important matters, I should direct familiar eyes to for its take on the demolition of Minneapolis.

You'd think that the Brits would have a sense of history? A desire to preserve? Nah. If anything, the abundant presence of the past diminishes our duty of care, even in the industrial towns that have little real history. Arson recently destroyed the old Catholic cathedral in my home town, saving the diocese the embarrassment of having to destroy it. It dated from the 1860s, so not that old: but one of the few Victorian buildings left in a town that only counts a century and a half of history.

My home town has a lot in common with Detroit: built on heavy industry (chemicals, steel, shipbuilding) and devastated by Thatcherism in the 1980s. "Retrain, adapt" is all very well, but you don't turn a workforce of labourers into telephone support staff overnight.

And it doesn't help a town when its landmarks -- repositories of memory and community -- are turned into yet another car park, yet another anodyne shopping strip, yet another "heritage experience". How can you have pride of place, or even a sense of place, among those ruins?
posted by holgate at 12:29 PM on August 16, 2000

As a lifetime resident of Michigan (and about 10 minutes from the locations being talked about) I believe that this site is important, because it reminds people of what Detroit was, and has potential to become. Much of Detroit's old auto industry is still very much in Michigan, just no longer in Detroit proper. It is near impossible to live in Southeast Michigan and NOT know at least 5 people who work for Ford, GM, or Daimler-Chrylser.

Detroit has been trying rebuild since the 70's, but complications such as high city taxes, local government corruption, and a lack of public transportation have been (and will continue to be) very difficult to overcome.

Recent efforts are showing some improvement, but Detroit has great difficulty attracting the suburbanites out to the city proper. (With the exception of an approximately 4 city block area).
posted by tj at 1:31 PM on August 16, 2000

Zach, I don't think you looked at the site very carefully. This is more than vacant old factories. We're talking about a city with mostly empty skyscrapers. One where they solve an empty factory problem by building a shopping center in front of it, and tear down historic apartments in favor of drug stores (though that last one is happening many places these days).

Most of the problems Detroit is experiencing are not unique. The sheer magnitude of the challenges facing the city is astounding, though.
posted by Aaaugh! at 1:47 PM on August 16, 2000

But the "ruins" in question are as they are today because they served their purpose and the car companies and other corporations moved out of them.

Right, to suburban office parks, or to the ridiculous Renaissance Center. Instead of just throwing out the old and building new, we should concentrate on preserving the great things we do have. The reason they're ruined is not that they've been used up, but that they were cast away and forgotten about. Sure, now that they're unsalvageable it's easier to tear them down, but we should have been taking care of them all along. This site and its principles are important if only to serve as lessons to us in the future. Let's not continually waste energy and resources unnecessarily!

To me, mourning their passing is like clinging to a shirt you have had since high school which is now filled with holes and no longer even suitable for wearing around the house while doing chores

Buildings are both more valuable and more easily restored than a hole-filled shirt. Lots of these old buildings are finely crafted works of art. And we're throwing them away because they're worn out? Because we neglected them for years? Was it worth it to restore the Statue of Liberty in (when was it?) 1986 or so? Maybe we should have just torn it down. After all, it had served its purpose.
posted by daveadams at 2:09 PM on August 16, 2000

Here's an example of my point... an image of the abandonment and blight commonly associated with downtowns is moving further out, into the first ring of suburbs. This is a process that isn't going to end unless we learn how to take care of what we have.

But Zach, I meant to make another point in the last post, and I forgot. Do you know why so many people are opposed to the destruction of old buildings? Even ones in horrible shape? Because whatever replaces them is going to be worse, much worse. Parking lots, strip malls, and fast food joints are not quality architecture.
posted by daveadams at 2:20 PM on August 16, 2000

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