Books | The Last Days of Detroit – All is not lost in the land of Motor City

Detroit is a city that has always had its problems, as this book from Mark Binelli notes. Even during the years when Henry Ford turned Detroit into an industrial mega-giant, racial segregation caused major ruckus between blacks and whites alike and to this day, Detroit, to misquote Harold Macmillan, has never had it so tough.

“Hubris, greed and prejudice” have caused the city’s population to drop by more than 60% from its peak. There’s enough vacant land in Detroit to fill Paris; 90,000 buildings lie abandoned. It has the highest murder rate in America and even has its own ‘Devil’s Night’ the night before Halloween (fire is involved). Binelli wonderfully evokes the dystopian nature of the city, observing how Detroit is an urban Wild West, where lawlessness, corruption and terrible public services are the norm and residents live in constant fear of being a murder victim.

However, all is not lost in the land of Motor City, Binelli tries to draw as many positive facets out of early 21st century Detroit. There’s the urban gardens and street art, young arty bohemian types moving into dirt cheap unoccupied apartments, while renting spacious inexpensive studios, in order to create their own cultural masterpieces, to hopefully rival great Detroit cultural figures like Berry Gordy and Aretha Franklin.

There was a surprisingly positive outlook on Detroit throughout the book that really permeated with the reader.Binelli’s Detroit is the Detroit of Robocop, Beverly Hills Cop and Assault on Precinct 13. Yet, Detroit rarely has a great press and this book can do wonders for those media Cassandras, whose work on Detroit consists of them showing photographs of abandoned skyscrapers and factories and writing about their former occupiers.

The Last Days of Detroit is a counter-attack against the cynics that say the city is empty of aspiration and condemned to an incurable, post-industrial decline. It is not a man ranting about how it was better in the good old days. Instead, Binelli displays a rather sunny disposition. “My optimism was proving tenacious,” he remarks towards the end. Like him, I’m certainly hopeful that one day, Detroit will come back.

Harry Wise

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