NPR: A Different Detroit, As A Native Tells It

Detroit City Is the Place to Be
Author Mark Binelli grew up in a Detroit in decline during the 1970s. The city used to embody the American dream: the auto industry, consumer culture and Motown.

When Rolling Stone magazine asked him to write about the Detroit auto show in January 2009, Binelli tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden, he jumped on it.

But Binelli didn't stop there. He moved back to his hometown to chronicle the city. He put it all into a book called Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis.

Covering Detroit as a native

"When I got there, I realized Detroit had become this poster city for the recession. I mean, reporters were coming [from all over the] country, all over the world, really, to look at the place, and I felt like, as someone who'd grown up there, I could really bring a little bit more nuance to the story, and not tell the same stories that are being told over and over — and that includes things like humor. I mean, Detroit is a very surreal, weird place, and I thought a lot of that was being missed by reporters who were just coming in for an afternoon or a day or two."

Visiting the 'zone'

"It's a huge swath of land — 190 acres — that had been a residential neighborhood once upon a time. It was raised by the city, and was supposed to become an industrial park. The idea was lots of factories would move in, and nothing happened. So, it's hard to really convey what it is like. You're basically five minutes from downtown of a major American city, but you are standing in these fields, that, I mean you could be in rural Arkansas, and you can still see traces of the old neighborhood. The sidewalks are so overgrown, they are almost invisible, but if you look carefully you can see the sidewalks ... You will notice a glimpse of red, and it turns out to be an old fire hydrant that is covered with grass that is 3 feet high. It's a surreal place."

Room for improvement

"One of the problems with Detroit is, you know, it was a city that at its peak, population was 2 million. Now with this last census, in 2010, it's down to just over 700,000, so you have all this vacant land, all of these abandoned buildings, what do you do with it? I mean, one of the more intriguing things that's been talked about, not much progress has been made so far, has been this sort of right-sizing initiative. That's the euphemistic term they have been using. Basically the idea is to convince people, incentivize people somehow, to move to denser urban cores, so then you would have the vacant land concentrated, and you could turn that into parks, possibility into farms.

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