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Filling the Void

Filling the Void
By Will Wittig -

Although the city of Detroit is not technically the most rapidly shrinking city in the United States, its role in the larger narrative of de-industrialization gives it some claim as the epicenter of urban shrinkage. The effects of sprawl, beginning with the mid-century federal housing and transportation policies that were pursued with particular vigor in Detroit in the hope of protecting the “Arsenal of Democracy,” have been dramatic. While the metropolitan region continues to grow in scale and population (until very recently), density continues to decrease. The central business district possesses an eerie aspect as a result of the presence of dozens of vacant parcels and abandoned buildings, some of a surprisingly large scale. Some surrounding neighborhoods mirror this condition and often appear genuinely rural in character. Most readers are all too familiar with this narrative of Detroit as a confounding landscape that somehow retains its sense of urbanity while it strains under the weight of absence; a bellwether of all that is “POST - industrial.” In fact Detroit has often been used metaphorically as a post-script or perhaps even an epilogue for modernism in general. She has been studied, maligned, lamented, and essentially been a victim of drive-by artistic exploitation [i.e. “ruin porn” produced mostly by outsiders] ad nauseum. In many recent portrayals the gaze remains fixated on the morbidly sublime; the city as an allegory for the failures of modern capitalism at best, but more often just a simple caricature of urban failure. Although strictly speaking those representations may reflect reality, most attempts to tell this story are severely limited by their own frame of reference: the author’s arm’s-length perspective; the running time of a marketable documentary; or the requirement for a dramatic cover story headline. The camera’s gaze must be framed somewhere within our expansive 139 square miles, and how can it not focus on the void? Perhaps it is easy...

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