Mark Binelli has no solution for Detroit. Yet, in this sharply observed, insightful work of love and fury, he suggests that the story of his hometown has lessons for the rest of us. These lessons are particularly salient when some cities are sputtering back to life, while others are considering bulldozing the shells of former neighborhoods. The federal government has little if any urban policy, let alone funds to help, and state government in this case, Michigans can take over city management with mixed, sometimes punitive results.
Detroit used to be flush with people, money, power and drive; now, much of it is a ghost town. Walk out of the Renaissance Center that awkward, steroidal blend of hotel and auto company headquarters down Jefferson Avenue, then along Woodward Avenue to Campus Martius and Cadillac Square, and what hits you is the grandeur of the giant office buildings, many of them closed. The scale is gigantic, the roads built for traffic that no longer exists. Its too easy to get around.
Subtitled The Afterlife of an American Metropolis, Binellis book offers broad coverage, touching on many facets of the city's current state: union shrinkage, the rescue of the auto industry, urban farming, the power of ruin porn to draw tourists to dead industrial buildings gone surreal, brutal crime, and political corruption so profound its cartoonish. Detroit, he suggests, has made failure chic.
Binelli draws a picture of a city so busted that members of the creative class can buy a house for a few hundred bucks, move in, do their artistic thing and, if they hit, make a living with startlingly low overhead. In Detroit, the gap between property and values is nearly unbridgeable. Such a deal.
A contributing editor at Rolling Stone who now lives in New York, Binelli grew up outside Detroit. As a young man, he thrilled to Detroits place in popular culture: in the first iteration of Robocop, a great 1987 science-fiction movie about a crime-ridden Detroit patrolled by cyborg police run amok; in David Bowies Panic in Detroit and Ted Nugents Motor City Madness; and in its reputation for success, largely due to the auto industry. …