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Of Ruined Cities and Feral Houses

December 1, 2009

I grew up in the Rustbelt; I spent my early childhood in Chicago and my adolescence (until about two years ago) in the metro-Detroit area.  As some of you may know, Detroit’s in a bad way right now.  Detroit’s real troubles started with the 1967 race riots and have only been compounded by political corruption and the death of the automobile industry.

For a more by-the-numbers understanding of exactly how bad things are, you can check out the 2000 US Census information (with updated estimates for 2006)  here. Detroit’s population is has fallen from a peak of about 1.8 million to under 875,000 people (this number itself an 8.4% drop from the 2000 census!).  In 1999, 26.1% of the population of Detroiters were living under the poverty line.  I understand this has risen above 33% at this point but I can’t find official verification).

In light of our conversation today about Manufactured Landscapes, I am reminded of my home city…the decline in population hasn’t resulted in a decline of buildings.  Many, many abandoned buildings remain.

Photographers Yves Marchand and Romaine Meffre catalogued some of this abandonment in their photo series “Ruins of Detroit.” (the image below links to their website)

Click to go to website

The Packard Plant

While these images remind me of our discussions on Burtynsky’s work, I am actually more interested in the photography documenting a phenomenon that takes the idea of “urban ecosystem” very seriously.

James D. Griffeon’s photos chart not only the abandoned buildings which Marchand and Meffre portray, but tries to watch as the ruins literally become a part of the ecosystem (particularly in the “Feral Houses” section).

Feral Houses of Detroit

I will leave you with one last image, straight out of Wall-E, but actually in an abandoned book depository in Detroit.

A Tree Grows in Detroit

I suppose I can’t help but feel a little hopeful.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary G permalink
    December 1, 2009 8:12 am

    Thanks for this, Andrea. As soon as you said Detroit, I immediately thought of David Griffioen and his feral house series, so I’m glad you brought up his work! It’s been a couple years since I first heard of Griffioen and I actually wasn’t aware of all of his other Detroit photography. Reading the CV he has posted on his site, my attention was drawn to a very recent showing his work was in called “Social Landscapes.” It strikes me how almost interchangeable this idea of a social landscape is to Burtynsky’s manufactured landscape… Also interesting is his concept of the “urban prairie” – city blocks and entire neighborhoods that have been razed of houses and other buildings so that remnants of sidewalks and roads now exist among growing fields of grass and weeds.

    On a side note, as someone who spent the past 2.5 years living in the similarly depressed city of Buffalo, NY, I have my own kind of love-hate relationship with these kinds of images. I don’t find them repulsive or terrifying, but rather intriguing, fascinating, and just a little sad. Some of my most memorable times in Buffalo were spent with two of the city’s most famous abandoned buildings – the Central Terminal and the old Buffalo Psychiatric Center.

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