Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gearing up for Motor City

So last weekend I had no mountain to hike up, no steel relics to photograph, no rustic delights to discover or unusual beings to encounter. Nope, I was buzzing about getting ready for my next adventure starting on Thursday afternoon. I wasn't upset that I couldn't be out enjoying the wonderfully warm Spring weather, nope, I took advantage of that by throwing open doors and windows, brushing dust and cobwebs outside and giving the whole house a thorough cleaning. The wood stove was emptied of ashes and the hearth swept clean, the washing machine rumbled through continuous cycles and Kota had to dash from room to room as he ran ahead of the vacuum cleaner. Rosie had a vet appointment to catch up with shots and both cats had their first dose of Frontline for the year to ward off fleas and ticks now the warmer weather had arrived.
But even through I rushed through my busy schedule I still made sure I had time for relaxing sleep ins on both days as I knew these would be my last for a while. And I sipped my mug of tea while reading up on the city of Detroit, aka Motown, aka Motor City.
After being discovered in 1701 by a Frenchman it became a fur trading center and people started immigrating here looking for a better life. By 1880 it had over 116.000 represented by over 40 nationalities and by 1910 was the 9th largest city in the States, with metal and auto industries booming. Ford, Packard, Chrysler and Chrysler were building cars and in 1922 when Ford introduced the 40 hour work week, Detroit's appeal grew further. The Great Depression only slowed the cogs momentarily because with thanks to Franklin Roosevelt's election and the New Deal, construction projects began all over the city. It continued to grow through the first half of the Twentieth Century but with so many immigrants tensions grew. The riots of 1943 and the Twelfth Street Riot in 1967 erupted after years of tension brewed by years of racial segregation, and then with rising gas prices and imported foreign vehicles, Detroit started crumbling. Large areas were destroyed by the rioting and were never restored. Motown had begun in 1959 and produced stars such as The Temptations, Gadys Knight & the Pips, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few, but by the late 60's Motown was starting to wane and it left Detroit for L.A. The city attempted a revival in the late 70's, building the Renaissance Center and later some casinos, stadiums and hotels. But Detroit has slowly been declining since the 50's, the withdrawal of the automotive industry playing an important part.
More than half of the owners of Detroit's 305,000 properties failed to pay their 2011 tax bills and in February 2013 this largest city in Michigan topped Forbes list of the 40 most miserable cities in the U.S.
And so why would I want to go there? With its violent crime, high unemployment, dwindling population and financial crisis it beckoned us, like the Wicked Witch beckoning Hansel and Gretel  with her bent finger. Because a culmination of all of these factors has caused more than 90,000 buildings to become abandoned and thus creating a Mecca of urban exploration in the U.S., if not the world. We are gleefully counting down the hours until we can explore these buildings first hand, beautiful Art Deco and Gothic ruins, crumbling casements, schools and hospitals, hotels and ballrooms, theaters and factories, so many buildings with time stopped still within their walls and the first green tendrils of spring growth creeping over window sills.Concrete factories and rusted machinery, production lines stopped forever with wheels and belts frozen with corrosion. Not a house built of bread and covered with cakes with windows of clear sugar. but buildings delectable and enticing nonetheless that we approach just as greedily.Hello Detroit!

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