Saturday, October 02, 2010

Go to Detroit, Young Man, and Grow Up

Bizarrely, a boot company and the guy from "Jackass" have teamed up to debunk the hopeless, epicenter-of-the-recession "ruin porn" that dominates everyone's perception of the Motor City. It's pretty fantastic, so I'll buy into their viral marketing scheme by re-posting and recommending their film here:

Here's the link for the whole 3-part series. It visits some of the famous ruins of Detroit, but only in the context that people are reviving and doing exciting things for those ruins. In this telling, the empty prairies and abandoned buildings don't necessarily represent blight; they represent possibility. Like the frontier in Horace Greeley's day, Detroit offers amazing opportunities for people to reinvent themselves - and reinvent the city.

A lot of what appeals to me in this video reminds me of the things I loved about Houston. Because in spite of its rapid growth and booming economy, Houston (like any other big city) also had a fair share of abandoned buildings, even entire neighborhoods overgrown in weeds, and those were the places I loved to explore.

It was also cheap to live there, partly because Houston has a sprawling geography and very few rules about what people do with their real estate - there is literally no zoning law there.

And so: one man I'd met bought the concrete shell of an old rice mill near the bayou, lived in a bus parked inside its empty walls, and made art cars. Our friends bought an abandoned apartment complex and the old pool hall next door to house a successful after-school program. And the summer we lived there, Art League of Houston commissioned this project for two abandoned houses that had been slated for demolition in the Montrose neighborhood (which is one of the city's most vibrant, by the way):

So in general, the most amazing parts of Houston were the places that had recently been abandoned, and were on the verge of re-creating themselves. I think that the same goes for most cities.

So I guess I disagree, somewhat, with the derogatory term "ruin porn." There are at least a few of us who are ogling Detroit's gorgeous, abandoned architecture and new prairies not out of scorn for the Government Motors bailouts, nor for the sake of wallowing in self-pity about this recession, but out of genuine sense of possibility. We are imagining ourselves making something new there, and being a part of the revival.

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