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Why Detroit?

Why Detroit?

Making of Report-NESS Detroit. Ph. Fernando Schapochnik

Why Detroit? In his curatorial text for the Shrinking Cities[1] conference in 2004, Kyong Park used Detroit as the main case study for the phenomenon, and concluded with one open question: do shrinking cities grant greater power to global capitalism, or are they the places where post-capitalist economic models will form?  

Fourteen years later, the picture has become even more complex; and still is quite blurry. The emergence of the sharing economies, as well as other alternative models, have impacted our societies to the point that we need to rethink and redefine all of our terminology. The global political landscape that has taken shape over the last few years offers another reaction to these changes. We are witnessing how conservativism, extremism, and various forms of fanaticism flourish in times of uncertainty.  

Detroit represents the climax and decay of a global project that was encapsulated in the American Dream—of progress related to a heroic industrialization, of welfare related to consumerism, of economic growth related to urban sprawl, of social integration. The Motor City’s streets lewdly show the physical trials and scars of the 20th century, claiming to be re-signified. The city that was once the cradle of Fordism and experiments in production found itself ahead of the curve in another kind of process in which there was a shrinking timetable of change. It all happened so rapidly that the demand for adaptation was overwhelming for everybody and everything.  

Today we face the peculiar results of those urban processes; here, a recession is not the same as a reversal, as returning back in time. Decentralization, dispersion, and communication have supplanted infrastructure, a densifying fabric, and physical exchange of capital. Since Google replaced Ford, the rural and the urban are no longer opposites.  

Detroit’s coexistent singularity and commonality have inspired new ways of thinking about the contemporary city and its problematics—Charles Waldheim’s concept of Landscape Urbanism[2] was, for instance, inspired by these processes. Over the last few decades, this critical territory and its social complexity have also required the testing of new models and fostered needed innovations, startups, and entrepreneurship. There is no clear map for ideal progress, there is no certain light at the end of the tunnel.  

— Florencia Rodriguez 

[1] Kyong Park, “Shrinking City Detroit,” in: “Working paper: Complete Works 1 – Detroit,” available online at: shrinking cities /fileadmin/shrink/downloads/pdfs/III.1_Studies1

[2] Charles Waldheim. “Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory.” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.

Making of Report-NESS Detroit. Ph. Fernando Schapochnik

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