Detroit has just been voted America’s most dangerous city and I happened to be visiting when this report was released. However, and although I didn’t venture into neighbourhoods that I didn’t know and had the privilege to be driven through the downtown area in the comfort of a 4×4 vehicle, it still portrays the vestige of a once beautiful place.
Detroit is a city frozen in time that seems to have lost its soul, and thereby lies the problem because most people go to work there or come into the city for leisure activities or to go to a restaurant and then return to the safety of the suburbs. Once the home for the rich and well to do of Michigan, where colossal buildings displayed wealth and power, the heart of Detroit was ripped out after years of racial tension.
The riots of 1967 were the catalyst that changed Detroit forever, driving white people out of the city. The increasing economic and social isolation of blacks contributed to the outbreak of violence that left forty-three dead and thousands injured. The riots shattered Detroit, and the ensuing political, economic, and social problems meant that many companies went out of business, leaving hundreds of people without employment.
A large proportion of the city still lies derelict, with crumbling edifices and vacant lots where majestic buildings once stood but which are now raised to the ground. Abandoned houses line the roads on the outskirts, whilst proud pre-depression skyscrapers grace the skyline as if ignoring the economic decline beneath them. To get an idea of what I am talking about, have a look at some of the stunningly haunting photographs by French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre who set out to document the decline of an American city in their book The Ruins of Detroit.
There is an ongoing programme of regeneration and revitalisation in place, and it can only be hoped that Detroit can claw its way back and rise from the ashes to become a significant urban district once again. Detroit, of course, was where Henry Ford established the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and when he introduced the moving assembly line Detroit earned its reputation as Automobile City or indeed Motor Town (Motown).
There are two visits that are a must if going to Detroit – the Henry Ford Museum, including the Ford Rouge F150 truck assembly line, and the Motown Museum where our guide sang and danced his way round Hitsville, the house where Berry Gordy, Jr. gave birth to a musical style that had a huge impact on 20th century culture.
Detroit is a worthwhile travel destination with remnants of the vibrant and booming metropolis it once was. Just be aware of where you are, stay in well lit areas, drive on major roads and you will enjoy your visit.