Once America's capitalist dream town, Detroit is our country's greatest urban failure, having fallen the longest and the farthest. But the city's worst crisis yet (and that's saying something) has managed to do the unthinkable: turn the end of days into a laboratory for the future.Read more...
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Once America's capitalist dream town, Detroit is our country's greatest urban failure, having fallen the longest and the farthest. But the city's worst crisis yet (and that's saying something) has managed to do the unthinkable: turn the end of days into a laboratory for the future. Urban planners, land speculators, neopastoral agriculturalists, and utopian environmentalists--all have been drawn to Detroit's baroquely decaying, nothing-left-to-lose frontier.
With an eye for both the darkly absurd and the radically new, Detroit-area native Mark Binelli has chronicled this convergence. Throughout the city's "museum of neglect"--its swaths of abandoned buildings, its miles of urban prairie--he tracks both the blight and the signs of its repurposing, from the school for pregnant teenagers to a beleaguered UAW local; from metal scrappers and gun-toting vigilantes to artists reclaiming abandoned auto factories; from the organic farming on empty lots to GM's risky wager on the Volt electric car; from firefighters forced by budget cuts to sleep in tents to the mayor's realignment plan (the most ambitious on record) to move residents of half-empty neighborhoods into a viable, new urban center.
Sharp and impassioned, "Detroit City Is the Place to Be" is alive with the sense of possibility that comes when a city hits rock bottom. Beyond the usual portrait of crime, poverty, and ruin, we glimpse a longshot future Detroit that is smaller, less segregated, greener, economically diverse, and better functioning--what could be the boldest reimagining of a post-industrial city in our new century.
"Detroit City Is the Place to Be "is one of "Publishers Weekly"'s Top 10 Best Books of 2012
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-08-27
- Reviewer: Staff
Novelist and Rolling Stone contributing editor Binelli's first nonfiction book is a nuanced portrait of a once-great American industrial city that decades ago fell into decay, but which is, as of late, experiencing a ray of hope. As fascinating as Detroit's current, tentative renaissance is, Binelli masterfully provides a broader story, a 300-year tour through the formerly wondrous and now wondrously devastated metropolis. A child of suburban Detroit, Binelli (Sacco and Vinzetti MustDie!) astonishes with spot-on research, fluid prose, and a discerning eye for the peculiar, including reports of early French frontiersmen and late ‘60s rock revolutionaries, the MC5. The author immersed himself in Motor City culture while writing the volume. From Henry Ford's auto and steel boom and the race riots of the 1960s and early ‘70s to the dark ages of widespread crack addiction and the current resurgence led by enterprising idealists, urban farmers, and DIY go-getters, Binelli offers a wildly compelling biography of a city as well as a profound commentary on postindustrial America. Photos. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Nov.)
Don't give up the ship
Everyone can think of a grim anecdote about Detroit—the highest murder rate in the country, 70,000 abandoned buildings—that they saw in a magazine article or in a news report. The city is an easy punch line, a convenient example to use when citing how America’s good fortune is running out.
There’s a larger truth. A city does not reach this state without a story behind its decline. And what about the thousands who live and work in Detroit, who must grow tired of being viewed as targets of pity or weary subjects for magazine features?
Rolling Stone contributing editor Mark Binelli’s Detroit City Is the Place to Be is part history, part explanation and part profile of a city he knows intimately—he grew up in the Detroit area. Sounds complex? It is, and it should be. The city doesn’t need any more labels or quick summaries. It needs someone to put a face on Detroit, to show that it’s not rolling over and playing dead. Binelli proves he’s up to the task in this refreshing, intriguing work.
What’s most apparent in Binelli’s thorough reporting is that Detroit is in constant battle mode. With so much unused land in the city, urban farming has become popular, but there are also those who want to make this neighborhood unifier into a corporate endeavor. Neighborhoods have become havens for creative types, but the changes brought by this influx “were miniscule in comparison with the problems facing the rest of the city,” Binelli reports. The American auto industry has created some noteworthy cars in recent years, but the unions are in the middle of a slow, endless death.
Binelli actually lived in Detroit while writing the book, and he talks to dozens of residents. It feels like he’s invested in Detroit’s future, not just reveling in the relevancy. He wants to understand what happened and what will happen. By looking beyond the troubling headlines and promises of politicians, Binelli discovers what determines a city’s fate: people who care. Detroit has more than you might expect.