Detroit Is Not a Ruin…really?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PLACES & SPACES Detroit Is Not a Ruin…really?

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    Ryan A. Waggoner


    Being from Detroit, this article on Dirt definitely caught my attention.  However you feel about Detroit, it is startling to see what has been done (or let done) to the city over the last 20-25 years.  However, there is a renewed interest, and people and companies with large budgets and dreams are really starting to make a difference.  Detroit seems to be a nice punching bag for critics, and maybe deservedly so.  But why continually focus on the negatives, instead of looking at the positive efforts being made.  Ten years ago when no one was focused on the extreme degrade and blight of the city in such a short span of time this may have been more shocking, but I’m pretty sure everyone now knows the state of the area. 

      The article began sounding like the author may ‘tell the whole tale about the city’, but definitely did not (or even attempt to really).  I’m not sure of the goal of this article, but with questions like ‘Why did Detroit fail while other large cities like Chicago and Los Angeles renewed themselves?’ the author is clearly not looking at any of the real issues. The title is misleading, and I am very surprised that ASLA would put out an article that is more focused on two photographers take, instead of local companies working hard on improvement.  Why not interview local LA’s, non-profits, business heads?!?  Why not look at the Campus Martius Park district or Wayne State’s campus and show how pockets of the city are vastly improving and spreading money back in to the city?  This seems like the perfect opportunity to showcase how landscape architecture CAN revitalize a city affected by urban decay.  If I hadn’t seen first-hand the strides being taken to renew the city, I would have read the article and been convinced that the city is still in a state of failure and decline.  One photographer states, ‘that the ruins are indicative of what “we’ve done to the earth. The ruins are the future. I’ve internalized what I’ve seen. It has energized my life, but it isn’t positive. The experience of these desolate places has marked me.”. 

      I’m not saying that Detroit is in any way a city to be showcased as a whole; there are still years worth of work and care to return it to it’s former glory.  I AM saying that of anyone, ASLA should have a better take on the subject.  ‘Detroit sounds like any other big city — with its mistakes, but not dead yet.’, isn’t a very convincing or credible rebuttal on the subject.  Look at local urban farming growth, investments back into the city, grocers returning to downtown locations, park improvements, the rebirth of ownership by residents, how the sport stadiums reintroduction into the city began the whole turnaround, etc, any number of views the article could have gone (or even attempted to go)….I don’t know, maybe a 2012 ASLA award on a design for urban agriculture in downtown Detroit?!?  I would like to hear other’s opinions on the article, and takes on Detroit in general…

     Detroit Is Not a Ruin

    vergara1 At the National Building Museum, a controversial set of two new photography exhibits asks us to consider whether a city can die, whether districts of ruined, abandoned buildings reverting back to nature can define a city that still has a population of 700,000 people. The answer is no: Detroit is still alive, but perhaps shamed by its decline. At a presentation by two photographers — Camilo Jose Vergara and Andrew Moore — Detroit was viewed as a warning of things to come, a modern-day Necropolis or city of the dead, but fortunately this storyline doesn’t tell the whole tale about that city.

    Vergara, a MacArthur “genius” fellow, sociologist by training, and also an evocative photographer, covers the process of decay in many cities in the U.S. Each year, he travels to cities like Camden, Chicago, and Detroit, to document how “time, elements, scavengers, and people” do “whatever they do to fine buildings.” In Detroit, he has taken series of photographs showing the decay of the same few buildings over time. Year and year, Vergara comes back because he’s fascinated by “what is going to happen” to these buildings. “Some are engulfed in vegetation or become ruins.”

    Read the rest of the article on dirt here…



    Detroit HAS a reputation that lives in infamy, but as was mentioned in these forums a few months ago, ASLA never recognized the depression.

    Detroit is used by critics (mostly outsiders) in hit pieces – whether it’s about business, unions, city officials, or its citizens.  Worse is when said critics (again, mostly outsiders) do hit pieces on the efforts to revitalize the city.  When some people see balloons, they only think about popping them.

    However, local critics have a far better vantage point.  I found via google search: blogspot detroit, a few interesting, quick, and not always rosy articles at,,, and  Unfortunately, they don’t have the audience that national publications do.






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