“Detroit” for the world is a general reference to the American auto industry and currently a subject bringing either contempt or pity from across the country. For people who actually live in the region, “Detroit” is a reference not only to the city, but to a vast area of suburbs surrounding the city and dependent not only on its infrastructure, but its industry.
It is a place of fear and anxiety these days as everybody who still has a job crosses his fingers in hope that the auto companies will do what they need to to sustain the flow of financial support from the federal government that has begun with TARP funds, but needing renewal and expansion after the Obama administration comes into office.
The decline of Detroit has been underway for a generation. I assume that many from outside of the area think of this decay as specific to the city. But the suburbs—communities making up not just adjacent communities but the huge area of three counties surrounding the city of Detroit—are themselves, in their dependency, in decline.
In the relentless negative change taking place in the region, the city has been not an infrequent target of interest and helpful study. It has also been the subject of dramatic explorations like the unseen EZ Streets, the great 8 Mile and, more recently, the delicious, Gran Torino.
I find it very interesting that the suburbs are now a subject of international interest and support, apparently as a representative subject of the global financial crisis.
In late February, the European design magazine, Abitare, and the Netherlands Architecture Institute, together as Archis RSVP, will stage an “intervention” in Macomb County, one of the three counties that make up what we call “Detroit.” Wayne County encompasses the city of Detroit, but also includes the Grosse Pointes. Oakland County holds some of the city’s richest suburbs and is the home of “Automation Alley” which sees itself as the technological transformation and future of the automotive industry. Macomb County is a diverse set of communities that sits north of the city, beyond the Grosse Pointes with the remnants of the great mansions of the founders of the industry, and the home of many who worked for the industry.
I do not yet know much about Archis and their interventions, but it is interesting to see that Macomb County joins Beirut, Naples, Kabul, Prishtina, and other places of conflict and tension.
More importantly, this as the core value of this attention—
For 75 years, Archis magazine and its predecessors have been investigating the realities of architecture. At first voicing a specific world view and engagement (Catholic traditionalism); later mounting the barricades of equal opportunities for all citizens (and its design consequences); eventually researching the themes and issues that could and should be addressed by architects and architecture, the forces that shape our world and habitat with or without the conscience intervention of professional designers and planners. In doing so the magazine has gradually changed its rationale: not just presenting what happened in the built environment, not just presenting how things were made, not just creating exposure to the people who did it. Rather than asking what, how and by whom, Archis has always asked the ultimate question to the raison d’être of architecture as a medium of culture: Why?
I hope to learn more, and maybe participate, in the intervention…more later, in other words.