Fear and Longing in Detroit

Contemplating ruins within one’s own nation greatly undermines the function of ruin gazing as an exercise in national superiority. The ruins of the homeland, represented in proliferating media, produce a trenchant challenge to assumptions about capitalist justice and democracy, notions of Western superiority and narratives of progress through technology. Yet even as ruin images picture the evidence of decline and collapse, they fail to account for the specific political and historical processes that lead to deindustrialization and city decline. By examining the causes of Detroit’s ruination, we may better understand the decline of all cities and the status of this decline as an active and ongoing process. The plight of Detroit throws into sharp relief the effects of deindustrialization and capitalist disinvestment in cities across the nation—from Trenton, Baltimore, and Philadelphia to Oakland, Fresno, and Sacramento— even as the black city of Detroit (and other majority black cities in Michigan) is uniquely targeted for “emergency management” based on the official presumption that its own profligacy and fiscal irresponsibility led to its decline.

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