A few weeks ago I returned from a few weeks in my home state of Michigan. The whole trip was pretty nice, but the very last leg of my visit has really stuck with me and just won't leave me alone. That was my visit to the city of Detroit. The whole thing started on my last Friday evening in Michigan, when we arrived at my sister's house. I decided that I wanted to be a bit of a tourist in my home state and see some things that I've only ever seen photos of, like the Michigan Central Station that loads of people in Germany seem to know about due to a documentary on television and now the famous book by French photographers, The Ruins of Detroit, but that I didn't even know existed until a couple years ago.
The empty shell of a building that was once a train station and hotel: Michigan Central Station.
You must understand, when you come from a tiny town in the middle of the state, you don't generally know much about the big cities except that they are scary and dangerous and best to be avoided. That said, this drive into the city was not at all scary. It was much more saddening than anything else, and a little exciting to see that, yes, there is still life in Detroit. There are people out and about, small businesses and things are happening. But it's certainly nothing like being in other big American cities like Chicago, New York or San Fransisco where there's true hustle and bustle.
My sister, beautiful genius that she is, said that if we're going to Detroit, we might as well stop by the Heidelberg Project too. This name rang a bell, I'd heard of this street before...
It's the location of an outdoor art installation right in what a lot of people might consider the ghetto, a neighborhood that just fell apart in the second half of the 20th century, people moved away, houses have been burned, demolished, the empty lots were unused and not taken care of. The artist Tyree Guyton grew up in this neighborhood and started this project with his grandfather in 1986 as a kind of protest against these negative developments in his neighborhood. Here are some pictures of the installments.
This art environment stretches along two city streets. It's packed with social commentary. For more about the history, development and details of this project, visit these sites:
I experienced a whole range of emotions on this visit. The colorful, creative environment was exhilarating, but then looking at these abandoned houses and empty lots stirred up some sadness, confusion and anger. This used to be a place where there were lots of houses and families and people going about their daily lives, now there are only a handful of houses that people actually live in. There are many empty lots. Some houses have visible fire damage and are clearly uninhabited. This is not the only part of Detroit that looks like this. But why? Why are these cool old neighborhoods left to rot away and the people left to their own devices while the edges of the city just stretch and stretch and stretch and people hunker down out there behind their chain link fences? Is that the American way? Does that have to be the American way?