Of urban decay and the postmodern wasteland

I spent last Sunday in Detroit. Now when I say “in Detroit,” I don’t mean “chillin’ with my rich friends in Ann Arbor,” nor do I even mean “hey, I’m from Bloomfield Hills!” I mean my grandfather’s house in Highland Park. Next to Palmer Park. In the blast zone. I went to visit the house, which is still in the family primarily because it would insult me to sell it for less than $10k. I rent it to a small group of nuns doing community service in the city. Best. Tenants. Ever. I want them to be happy and to keep doing their thing.

The street is in good shape. Most of the cars have license plates. Women walk around during they day with their kids. There’s even a combination vegan cafe / chiropractor / halfway house on the corner. Let’s just say that they like cash.

The next street over, not so good. There are three houses on the block that are not condemned. There are something like a dozen houses still standing. The grass – all the way along the street – is chest high. Big pitbulls and dobermans look at you from porches as you drive by.

On the way to the airport, I went for a drive. Turns out that Lords of Acid are playing downtown this week at a club so skanky that I didn’t even slow down. Who knew that they tour? Anyway, I wanted to see the Michigan Central Railroad Station before they tear it down. This is a grand old building in the tradition of grand central and penn station. It’s ABANDONED. Like, “ownership is unclear” abandoned. Honestly, I can see both sides of the argument about refurbishing it. On the one hand, it’s a shame to let a beautiful old structure go to seed. On the other hand, it’s better to pay what’s left of the fire department than to try to do something with it.

This brings me to my point: We’re slipping – badly – when we can’t sustain what we’ve already built. Detroit was a mighty city. A capital of enterprise. To where has that innovation moved? Why are we throwing away a century of work?

I just don’t know – but I look at that train station and I see the ruins of other fallen capitals.

I see the outskirts of empire.

I see the spot where the water reached highest – before the wave broke and trickled back into the ocean.

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