Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reports of Detroit's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

It's still there. Really. Specifically, Julien Temple's recent essay on the "last days of Detroit" is -- well, pretty silly. Temple published the essay in connection with his recent documentary, Requiem for Detroit, which the essay does not put me in the mood to see. Temple describes certain parts of town where the police will not bother you as long as you haven't murdered anyone. What nonsense. It's a distillation of some stereotypical attitudes toward "urban jungles" held by people who only visit them as tourists.

Toward the end of his essay Temple mentions a few hardy souls who, to his great surprise, in spite of everything, are determined to stick around and make it work.

To be greatly surprised that Detroit is not actually emptying out, that not everyone is leaving who can -- not to mention the few people *gasp!* moving there -- I don't recall Temple having mentioned any of the latter -- ah say ah say to be greatly surprised here, one must be pretty ignorant not only about Detroit specifically, but also about the way cities work in general, not to mention about some pretty universal constants in human habits and behavior. Julien Temple has lived on this planet for over 56 years, and has worked in the UK, in Los Angeles and New York and other cities as well, now including Detroit. One would've thought that as a movie director he would have had his eyes open at least part of that time. Maybe not. Let me run it down for Julien:

Cities rise and fall, prosper and go through hard times, in cycles. In times of higher unemployment and the various problems which are a part of decreased prosperity, people do tend to leave cities, to seek their fortunes elsewhere. But others tend to move in in their stead. Abandoned industrial districts become gentrified. Other sorts of industry spring up. But apart from the yuppies and speculators, there are also the stubborn natives, exemplified by Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles who put it in this very memorable way:

"Hell, I was born here, and I was raised here, and goddamn it, I'm a-gonna die here! And no sidewindin', bushwhackin', hornswogglin' cracker croaker is gonna ruin my biscuit-cutter! Rahruhruh!"

These Gabbys are everywhere, and their grim determination to by God stay everywhere they are, combined with the entreprenurial spirit of those who move into and renovate the places left by the discouraged, and with the application of governmental grant money, and with the influx of people just looking for plain old cheap rent and small mortgages, turn urban jungles into boomtowns: in Temple's hometown of London, and in New York, to name a couple of recent examples, and in Cleveland, to name another close enough to Detroit that plenty of Detroiters have easily been able to observe how it's done.

Again: what on Earth has Julien been observing? (Not economic cycles, one presumes.) Requiem? The mind boggles.

1 comment:

  1. A map showing population changes in Michigan county-by-county between 2000 and 2009: