Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Ruins of Detroit

Matthew Lickona links to The Ruins of Detroit, Marchand and Meffre's photographs of a dying city. (The book is coming out this year.) I can't stop looking at these images -- they're sobering and heart-rending and elegaic. The scale of these ruins is unbelievable, especially for a city which is still inhabited, if barely.

This abandoned station was alive, once. How many people passed through it each day? What was the life expectancy of this building, that it was constructed on so grand a scale? Can this building be salvaged? My heart aches to see such a gracious structure pass into irreparable decay, and yet the damage has already been done.

This is abandonment and decay on a Titanic scale -- mammoth theaters and ballrooms and factories untouched by human presence, quietly crumbling through years of man's destructive absence. Detroit must be a city slowly collapsing in on itself to have so many grand buildings just abandoned.

This is the eeriest photo of them all -- a library. The inkjet printer on the desk testifies to a more recent abandonment. There are still books on the shelves. It must have once been an exceptionally comfortable place to read -- look at the fire place and the craftsman windows. If this library could just be abandoned, the neighborhood itself must have died.

Here's a fine set of Detroit photos from J. Griffioen's Flickr collection.


Amber said...

Amazing. It is almost hard to wrap my mind around it, really. I showed the pictures to my husband and it reminded him of a series he's been reading my S.M. Stirling where there is this cataclysmic change and all of a sudden technology doesn't work anymore.

But really, this is more eerie in a way - instead of cataclysm, this is the result of a family moving away, then another, than another... searching for jobs, bigger yards, who knows what. A slower process, but ultimately just as destructive. Cities and towns somehow seem so permanent, but yet they aren't at all, are they. Where we live there once were two towns a few miles up and down the road from us. One was somewhat preserved as a state park, and the other is only a memory. A much smaller scale, but still the same sort of forces at work.

mrsdarwin said...


What's even sadder is that a lot of Detroit's neighborhoods were decimated because of "white flight". Racism doesn't just affect people; it destroys whole cities, apparently.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe it's because the American automakers built crappy cars for 30 years and people stopped buying them, so the factories had to lay people off and they left because they had to find jobs.


RL said...

Yes, MrsD, it is amazing and sad. Our family enjoys (for lack of a better word) viewing images of abandoned and decayed buildings of any sort. Those from Detroit are most appreciated by me - the old train station in particular. You should see it in real life, it stands out as a majestic piece of ruin from the expressway and when you're on the street in front looking at it over the large grounds you can't help but imagine the contrast from 60 years earlier.

There was a great video about the train station on youtube, a documentary where an old employee revisited the ruins, but it's since been removed. Here are some more pics though.

Unknown said...

I agree with Joel that Detroit's downfall can't be attributed solely to white flight, and I wouldn't attribute white flight necessarily to racism. There was a clear shift in demographics but I think it's more based on a preference for suburban lifestyle over urban. Not that there wasn't racism in the 50's and 60's, there clearly was and it was problematic, but I'm not so sure racism had as much to to do with it as people having the prosperity and wherewithal to trade up from an apartment or small old house with little property to a new place in the burbs with a lower cost of living. Suburban life was and still is void of many of the liabilities of urban life.

There's actually much more to say about the governance, polices, economics, and demographic shifts that destroyed the city but there's little time for me to discuss it.

Ken & Carol said...

Is this a kind of "memento mori" on a grand scale?

Catholic Teacher Man said...

These images seem emblematic of the soul of America today. The spark of life seems to have gone out, and all that remains is a delapidated skeleton. Time is taking its nasty revenge and grinning all the while. On a brighter note, where God closes a door, he opens a window, right? :)

Catholic Teacher Man said...

These images seem emblematic of the soul of America today. The spark of life seems to have gone out, and all that remains is a delapidated skeleton. Time is taking its nasty revenge and grinning all the while. On a brighter note, where God closes a door, he opens a window, right? :)

Art Deco said...


IIRC, the homicide rate within the Detroit city limits, ca. 1975, was in excess of 70 per 100,000. The national mean was about 10 per 100,000. People had some practical reasons to skedaddle.

Jim Thomas said...

Homeostasis: a state of equilibrium or a tendency to reach equilibrium, either metabolically within a cell or organism or socially and psychologically within an individual or group.

Somehow this city tried to short circuit the normal systems that bring cities back into balance. It's a disaster without a natural cause and it serves as a painful lesson of a social system gone awry.

Anonymous said...

The decay continues, and you can see what is happening in residential areas. Here is a news report about the last woman on the block who has to have bars on the inside of her windows:

The video is stops and starts for me so if it does that, be patient.

Scott W.

JB said...


Lemme get this straight: White folks built Detroit on a grand scale and then fled at the coming of--gasp!--black folks? I mean, we whites are just. that. racist. In fact, we'd sink the entire city rather than share Detroit like--*ahem*--we do every other city in the USofA. Nope. We ain't sharin' Detoit, dammit! We're soooo racist that we can't stand to have to share the opera or the library with Black folk! Do you know how ludicrous this...well, never mind. Your multicultural classes in college have done their work well convincing you that if black people suffer in any way/shape/form, then somehow, in some way, whitey's to blame.

Congrats on your award for Most Bigoted Comment Ever. Get some help curbing that bad case of White Guilt.

mrsdarwin said...


Dude, are you okay? You're reading an awful lot into one little remark. Really, take your touchiness somewhere else.

It's verifiable that the white population of Detroit plummeted after the 60s. Because of the race riots? Doubtless that was a factor, though the auto industry was also starting to tank. But you're awfully naive if you think that some white people weren't motivated to get out by black people moving into the neighborhood. My comment was based partly on recollections of this article from the WSJ on the decline of the Boston-Edison neighborhood.

And I'm delighted that the innocence of your mind has been so unsullied by contact with life that my comment ranks as the most bigoted you've ever read.