Detropia: Detroit as Utopia or Dystopia?

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Another meandering commentary on the “American Dream” gone wrong, the new film DETROPIA documents some of that downward spiral and efforts to rethink the future of the city. For solutions, see our piece on Detroit Works, and here is an excerpt:

Documentary on Detroit as Utopia

DETROPIA filmstill by Craig Atkinson

Detroit Works, the long-term planning vision for the long-rusting Motor City, embraces the urban farming, permaculture, and ecological urbanism movements, to chart the way to more a prosperous and sustainable future. It calls for re-connecting with the land, uniting residents toward the common good of raising healthy food in tree-lined walkable neighborhoods. Connected by multi-modal transportation, it sets forth a suite of productive land uses to elevate the disabused squalor of the urban ”legacy” of our collapsed industrial environments.

The documentary DETROPIA is described as follows:

From Caroline Libresco: Detroit’s story has encapsulated the iconic narrative of America over the last century— the Great Migration of African Americans escaping Jim Crow; the rise of manufacturing and the middle class; the love affair with automobiles; the flowering of the American dream; and now . . . the collapse of the economy and the fading American mythos. With its vivid, painterly palette and haunting score, DETROPIA sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. These soulful pragmatists and stalwart philosophers strive to make ends meet and make sense of it all, refusing to abandon hope or resistance. Their grit and pluck embody the spirit of the Motor City as it struggles to survive postindustrial America and begins to envision a radically different future.


“Dismantling Detroit,”
New York Times op-docs by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, from DETROPIA.

From David Denby, The New Yorker: Ruins, of course, often strike us as magnificent. In “Detropia,” we’re looking  at American ruins, and we feel awe, but here it’s mixed with disbelief and shock. This city didn’t fall victim to warfare or weather. It was abandoned. The population of Detroit, at its peak, in the early nineteen-fifties, was 1.8 million people. But, as new highways were built, and as the automobile manufacturers began closing plants, people with money moved to the suburbs, and many workers, especially African-Americans, were left stranded. In part, the  movie is a testament to spontaneous economic activity in the ruins.

DETROPIA: DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

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WilderUtopia.com regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other.