70 internautes sur 71 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Refreshingly nonpartisan and presented without the author's own ego and agenda getting muddled up in things (a flaw so common in nonfiction books that take on difficult subjects), Detroit City Is the Place to Be is simultaneously a lesson in how we got here and how we might possibly get out of here. A Detroit area native (though he now lives in New York City), Mark Binelli covers almost every angle of the problem of Detroit, including historical and current racial tensions, the explosive growth and painful contraction of the auto industry, the eroding tax base and lack of resources, the distrust of outsiders, the blight, the fires, the violent crime, the music, the ruins, the drug culture, the despair, and those small, shimmering pockets of positivity (one almost can't call them hope just yet) that while things may not have bottomed out just yet, the city really has nowhere to go but up.
Binelli weaves a comprehensive and yet somehow still comprehensible tapestry of facts, statistics, and personal stories that gives the reader the big picture of Detroit but doesn't miss the importance of the details. Even for a Michigander who has been hearing and reading about Detroit's decline for decades, there are plenty of jaw-dropping moments. In these pages we meet real Detroiters: UAW members losing hope, teen moms grasping a better life for their children, "hustlers" coming up with their own work when jobs are nonexistent, concealed pistol enthusiasts, urban prairie dwellers, guerrilla lawn mowing brigades, and many more. Whether they stick with Detroit because they can't afford to move or out of a solid sense of loyalty to their family history and their city, they are in it for the long haul and they are not (quite) ready to give up yet.
As one of those people says in Binelli's book, "Detroit isn't some kind of abstract art project. It's real for people. These are real memories. Every one of these houses has a story." And as Binelli himself says, "Detroit, if anything, is a place where the past cannot be shook loose. It hangs on, tenaciously, creeping over the city like a slow-growing mold, until--this begins to seem inevitable, if you get into a certain mood--the entire place will be nothing but past."
This is not a book of solutions. It's not a plan to rightsize a monolith of the nearly bygone modern industrial era. It's not a crunchy, hippified manifesto on returning to subsistence farming and turning abandoned houses and factories into artists' studio space. It's not a vision for a utopian society of light rails, rooftop gardens, and flashy tech jobs. All of those elements are to be found in Detroit City Is the Place to Be because there are earnest people proposing scenarios like these, but they are not exactly championed by Binelli. Rather, like a good, impartial journalist without an ax to grind (amazing, right?) he puts it out on the table for the reader to chew on, bones and all. He leaves the situation in all its absurdly complicated glory because to come to the end and present a "solution" to the problems plaguing Detroit would be the absolute most naive and insulting thing to do. Real life is complex enough. Real life in Detroit is perhaps even more so. And it's refreshing to read an author who gets it, who knows that you can't solve a problem like Detroit with a five step plan imposed from the outside.
We naturally want a tidy solution to be discovered (as though people just haven't been looking hard enough for the past, oh, let's say 80 years). But we do a disservice to the people living the nightmare on the ground in Detroit (or in other complicated, violent, and seemingly hopeless situations, as this can all be extrapolated to other post-industrial towns and even to volatile areas of the world such as the Middle East) when we imagine that a few policy changes or a few new companies moving to town will solve the problem. Short of a sudden and unprecedented inflow of free money (which doesn't exist, of course) the rebuilding of this great city will be slow and painful and no one will be completely happy with it at any stage.
As a realist in general, I cannot be wildly optimistic about the future of Detroit (and the bulk of Binelli's book certainly didn't nurse any idealistic notions that may have been trying to take root in the deep recesses of my subconscious, despite his more hopeful conclusion). I agree with Binelli's implicit message that policy changes and business tax breaks and film crews cannot save Detroit on their own. But the spirited people who refuse to leave, who patrol their neighborhoods, who create beauty from ashes--those are the ones who, one by one, family by family, can keep hope alive.
For those of us on the outside, it's good to remember that before you can save something you must care about it, and before you can care about something you must be educated about it. Detroit City Is the Place to Be is an education. It's Detroit 101. Whether readers (like myself) use what we learn to try to make a difference is up to us. But we couldn't have a more concerned, honest, and gentle teacher than Mark Binelli.
I highly recommend this book to every Michigander; to anyone interested in big cities, the post-industrial age, urban planning; to anyone tempted to write Detroit off as a lost cause. It will ground you in reality even while it points to a faint light in the distance that we may reach if only we are brave enough to travel a treacherous road.
33 internautes sur 37 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Alan F. Sewell
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Author Mark Binelli tells a well-written and engaging story of America's most maligned city. He explains his purpose in writing the book:
For people of my generation and younger, growing up in the Detroit area meant growing up with a constant reminder of the best having ended a long time ago. We held no other concept of Detroit but as a shell of its former self. ... Would my kids one day grow up thinking the same thoughts about America as a whole, about my ponderous tales of cold war victories and dot-com booms....A malaise spreading through the rest of the country....
After I moved back to the city, people I met in dozens of different contexts described Detroit as "the Wild West." Meaning, it's basically lawless. Meaning, land is plentiful and cheap. Meaning, now, as the frontier quite literally returns to the city-- trees growing out of tops of abandoned buildings! wild pheasants circling the empty lots!-- so, too, has the metaphorical frontier, along with the notion of "frontier spirit."
...just as Greenland might be called ground zero of the broader climate crisis, Detroit feels like ground zero for ... what, exactly? The end of the American way of life? Or the beginning of something else? Either way, that is why so many divergent interests are converging here right now. Who doesn't want to see the future?
Detroit is late to the urban revitalization party. In the early 1980s other decrepit inner cities like Baltimore and Cleveland began replacing their boarded-up crumbling downtown areas with new commercial developments and "gentrified" neighborhoods of upscale real estate. These renewing inner cities attracted prosperous African-Americans, reverse-migrating White suburbanites, and foreign immigrants. I lived in Chicago during the twenty years when developers transformed its Near South Side from an urban wasteland of slums and crumbling warehouses into a brand spanking new neighborhood of glitzy high rises, fine restaurants, and multi-million dollar condos.
Detroit remains massively slummy and scummy. In 2010 Mitt Romney's birth mansion was demolished, like many others in the city, because it had become a blighted crack house. The property in Detroit is so beyond repair that the city has abandoned much of its 139 square mile area, withdrawing police protection and city services. Even many of the suburbs are rancid. The abandoned Silverdome way out in Pontiac was auctioned off for next to nothing.
Recently private developers have attempted to revitalize the city by buying up real estate for pennies on the dollar and rehabbing it. The big developers tend to be followed by individual investors who buy one property at a time and start improving it. The rising fortunes of the city then become a magnet for other property owners and businesses to start moving in. The cycle of urban decay is replaced by a virtuous circle of renewed growth.
This book chronicles the beginning of that process in Detroit. It is funny in a self-depreciating way. It doesn't pull any punches about the mountain of problems that Detroit is buried under. But it also tells the happier times in the city's history --- those days from the 1920's through the 1960's when it was a boomtown that offered blue collar prosperity to the Italians, Poles, and Slavs who left the poverty of Eastern Europe, and also prosperity to the country boys from Appalachia and the destitute Southern Blacks who built the vibrant "Motown" music industry. Millions have prospered in Detroit.
Binelli personalizes the history of the city through stories of his multi-generational Italian immigrant family. He tells about his life of growing up in the 1980s, leaving the city in the 1990s, and then returning as an "urban pioneer" in 2000s. He tells poignant stories about other Detroiters, heroes and villains. He tells the stories of labor unions vs. managements and of drug gangs against police. He tells the story of the city's politics, both of vision, and too often of corruption.
You will take away from this book an experience of what it is like to live in Detroit and try to make sense of the economic and political issues affecting the town.
After reading the book my feelings about Detroit's prospects for revival are:
* Detroit is an "accidental city" rather than a "City of Destiny" like Chicago, St. Louis, or even Cleveland. These other cities were founded upon great natural transportation corridors, had trade areas extending hundreds of miles, were centers of distribution of natural resources, and attracted outstanding civic leadership. Detroit, on the other hand, is an "accidental city." It is a megalopolis only because Henry Ford happened to live there. Until he came to town it wasn't destined to be anything more than a middling city like Toledo or Grand Rapids. Now that the auto industry has dispersed the city must decline to a more "natural" size. Thus Detroit is NOT a metaphor for the rest of America. It is the exception, not the rule.
* Detroit is one-dimensional. It rose and declined with the auto industry. The auto industry is reviving and there are many outstanding industrial and engineering firms remaining in the area. But it may not be able to develop a truly diversified economy as its more successful neighbors like Chicago, Indianapolis, and even Cleveland have done.
* It's hard to imagine that small-time businesses like "urban farming" or artist colonies will gin up anywhere enough economic activity to replace the lost industrial powerhouses. Nevertheless it is better for people to be TRYING to add value to the city, even in humble ways, than to be sitting home collecting welfare or turning to crime. If Detroit is really going to recover significantly it will be through more traditional projects like the proposed new bridge linking the city to Canada and thereby making the city a giant truck stop on the NAFTA Superhighway.
* The positive aspect is that the people of Detroit are nice. Contrary to all the stories about them shooting at you, the typical Detroiter is a friendly White, African-American, or immigrant who will be pleased to give an out-of-towner directions, recommend restaurants, or chat in a bar about the Lions, Tigers, Pistons, or Redwings. All those Appalachian Whites and Southern Blacks who came to town during the prosperous years give the city a folksy, down-home feel. I can imagine anybody who does go to live in Detroit will find it a welcoming place. These people seem capable of working together to restore a modest prosperity if properly led by the city governing officials and perhaps getting a boost from the investments of private developers.
This book will definitely hold your interest if you're from "The D" or the State of Michigan or just want to know what's going down in the city. Detroit may not seem like the most entertaining subject to write about, but Mark Binelli is a great writer with many meaningful stories about the past, present, and possibly brighter future of the city.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Peter Durward Harris
- Publié sur Amazon.com
I have never been to America, let alone Detroit, but I have a vested interest in America because of a shared culture, and some of that culture came from Detroit. It is so sad to learn about the state of the city in 2013, but even as the author (who was born in Detroit after the good times were over, and lived there for many years) paints a grim picture, he sees hope for what he found on a return visit.
Prior to buying this book, I only knew of Detroit specifically for its car industry (now a shadow of its former self), Motown (who were already beginning a long, slow decline when they moved to Los Angeles in the seventies, but failed to arrest that decline) and the song Detroit City, which became an international pop hit for Tom Jones. Those specifics aside, I knew where to find Detroit on a map of North America, and I assumed it was fairly typical of large American cities, with a multi-racial population and plenty of skyscrapers. In 2013, I heard about the city going bankrupt and soon afterwards bought this book. I was appalled to find out the truth about Detroit, which is very different now from what it once was.
I think most, perhaps all, of the individual problems described in this book have occurred at some time or other elsewhere, including in Britain. However, the sheer scale of the decline is on a far greater scale. However, like the author, I see some hope for the future, but it won't be easy. Given that I am somewhat older than the author, I don't think I'll live to see Detroit return to greatness, but I might live long enough to see clear signs of a recovery.
The author does not devote a lot of space to the early history, but gives a basic outline. Most of the book is, as I'd expected, about the decline of this once mighty city, with its ideal location where a river flows into one of the Great Lakes near the international border between the USA and Canada - an ideal location for an industrial city. Industry thrived until the second half of the 20th century. The author suggests the decline may already have started by the time the first Motown record charted, but the first sign of decline that the outside world noticed was the riot of 1967. From what this book says about that riot, I think there have been plenty of bigger riots in Britain. As such, I am inclined to agree with the author that the riot did not begin the decline.
As the decline continued, it fed upon itself as those who could afford to move out of Detroit did so, leaving the inner city area to those who couldn't. This kind of thing has happened in Britain, but not on the same scale, possibly because Britain is a very small country by comparison, and therefore suburban sprawl is more limited. Detroit could not expand to the south or east, but when people wanted to leave, there was room to the north and west.
Detroit, like the old Roman Empire, is becoming famous for its ruins, the most famous being the old Michigan Central Railroad station. It was built in a grand style, but closed in 1988 and now decays gradually. All very sad, but at some point it will either be demolished or restored for some other use. Restoration would cost a fortune so I assume it will be demolished eventually.
Problems became ever more difficult to address, and these were complicated by the different political units at city level, suburban level and state level. The federal politicians scarcely get a mention, but they try to stay out of local issues as far as possible. So Detroit struggles on with a decreasing population and a decreasing income, with no easy way to reverse the trend - but as the author indicates, there is hope.
Some plots of land have been returned to agriculture, while artists and others have moved in out of curiosity. I'm not sure if these are the answers, but there is plenty of space, and orthodox methods of regeneration are also being tried.
There are other books about Detroit's problems, but this one told me what I wanted to know. I really hope that solutions are found to Detroit's problems.