Stateside: Andrew Herscher's "Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit"

Dec 10, 2012

In “The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit,” Andrew Herscher re-imagines unused city spaces as areas of possibility.

The city’s surfeit of abandoned buildings is, for some, an image of blight.

But according to Herscher, a variety of individuals are using Detroit as a site of experimental craft and commerce.

"Unreal Estate" is the term Herscher gives to urban space that has lost economic value to the point where it can support other types of development.

When land is used by homes it becomes real-estate; but when these properties fail, the buildings they occupy become available to be appropriated in other ways.

“What I’m interested in are the conditions of possibility to live in the city differently,” said Herscher.

Herscher explores these ideas throughout his book- noting a brand of urbanism that is developing in Detroit.

“In Detroit, the individuals in the communities that have taken advantage of Unreal Estate include activists, artists and curators of urban Ephemera. They are all involved in an informal urbanism,” said Herscher.

The diverse group of people moving to the city brings with it an eclectic mix of projects.

“One of the things the book tries to do is bring together projects that are seen in isolation,” said Herscher.  

A term explored in the book is “Municipal Therapy,” which is defined by Herscher as a process of citizens caring for and maintaining their city.

Realism is essential when assessing Detroit’s future, says Herscher.

“I think it’s all too easy to see signs of hopelessness in a city like Detroit. At the same time I think it’s all too easy to be naively hopeful about Detroit. I see Detroit as a very distinct phenomenon.”

-Cameron Stewart

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