My Dad grew up in Detroit in the 1930s. He described a city humming with activity: factory whistles sounding, street cars rolling by, and broad sidewalks crowded with people.
We went back to his old neighborhood several years ago. His house was on Lakeview Avenue.
It's gone now, along with the houses on most of the block. I was left to imagine his childhood home, and the stickball games he'd play in the alley, by trying to extract mental images from the remaining concrete slabs we could see.
People seeing Detroit for the first time always seem to be amazed at the devastation left behind. In the hollow buildings, thousands upon thousands of old stories seem to ring out.
That's true for singer and artist David Byrne as well (former Talking Heads frontman). He's written about his impressions of Detroit in his book Bicycle Diaries, and he recently spent a week in the city and joined up with Tour De Troit, a bike tour through the city. He posted his pictures and thoughts on his blog "Don't Forget the Motor City".
A couple of memorable quotes from the his blog post:
"One passes by massive abandoned condos and apartment buildings. In New York City these days we see empty condos—shiny victims of the boom and subsequent crash—symbols of the bubble and its craziness. But these buildings are different. Some of them are at least 50 years old, some are grand and elegant, and they tend to look as if everyone just left one day, walked out (kicked out more likely) and now the wind blows through the glassless windows. Why are all the windows gone?"
"This process didn’t happen overnight, as with Katrina, but over many, many decades. However the devastation is just as profound, and just as much concentrated on the lower echelons of society. Both disasters were man-made."
Byrne also posted this link to part of the documentary Requiem For Detroit