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A PROJECT BY BY A PROJECT
The Detroit Unreal Estate Agency The Detroit Unreal Estate Agency V22_FINAL.indd 71
31 — 32
AN ATLAS OF LOVE AND HATE: DETROIT RELATIONS
GEOGRAPHY OF ABSENCE: THE DETROIT TOUR-MISSED MAP
ENTICED AND EXPECTANT
PERSISTENT AND PATIENT
9 — 14
33 — 34
CURIOUS AND PATIENT
DETROIT BUREAU OF TOURISM NICK TOBIER
FLIRTY AND AROUSED
FUTURE POSTMAN LADO DARAKHVELIDZE
15 — 18
35 — 38
BOLD AND COMMITTED
HOPEFUL AND WORRIED
WE ALMOST LOST DETROIT
CHRISTIAN ERNSTEN, EDWIN GARDNER, JOOST JANMAAT
19 — 20
39 — 44
FERVENT AND ENGAGED
FREE SPEECH KARAOKE
AFFECTIONATE AND EMPATHETIC
SHELBY MOFFETT AND ROBERT SMILEY JR
WALK-IN PORTRAIT STUDIO CORINE VERMEULEN AND FEMKE LUTGERINK
21 — 24
45 — 46
AGITATED AND IMPASSIONED
EDGY AND AMBIVALENT
UNREAL ESTATE OF THE REALM
25 — 26
DISAPOINTED AND INDIGNANT
UNITED NATIONS OF DETROIT ANDREW HERSCHER
47 — 48
CONFIDENT AND ACCESSIBLE
HUMAN TOUR OF DETROIT WILLIAM BUNGE
27 — 30
GENEROUS AND IRONIC
THE ALTERNATIVE PRESS
Detroit Unreal Estate Agency is Christian Ernsten, Andrew Herscher, Joost Janmaat, Femke Lutgerink, Mireille Roddier detroitunrealestateagency.blogspot.com
Editors Christian Ernsten, Edwin Gardner, Andrew Herscher Design Nina Bianchi © 2009
This publication is sponsored by: University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and Taubman College Architecture Program
This Atlas includes material from Detroit Unreal Estate Studio, University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, winter 2009 Instructor: Mireille Roddier Participants: Erica Andrus, Lisa Berglund, Katherine Chang, Sophia Chang, Ted Christensen, Jose Esparza, Ali Iftikhar, Christopher Lee, Marc Maxey, Timoty Miron, Shelby Moffett, Ian Ogden, Luke Rondel, Robert Smiley, Erik Zinser
Detroit Unreal Estate Agency sponsored by: University of Michigan Arts on Earth Initiative, Dutch Art Institute, Mondrian Foundation
Detroit Unreal Estate Studio, Dutch Art Institute, The Netherlands Coordinators: Christian Ernsten, Joost Janmaat Participants: Monika Berenyi, Cecilia Costa, Lado Darakhevelidze, Jimini Hignett, Raymond Huizinga, Yota Ioannides, Sasha Miljevic, Sevgi Ortac, Viki Semou
Volume is published by the Archis Foundation, the Netherlands, and Printed by Die Keure, Belgium
Special thanks to: Berenika Boberska, Mitch Cope, Amir Djalali, Rik Fernhout, Leon Hendrickx, Scott Hocking, Maaike Lauwaert, Toni Moceri, Hilly Podde, Gina Reichert, Gabrielle Schleijpen, Zeb Smith, Corine Vermeulen, Jeroen Visser, Klinger Street neighborhood, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, University of Michigan Detroit Center
— 3 — ENTICED AND EXPECTANT
How dogmatic the classes on maps called ‘land use’ are. How about the use of land to show love? Or hate? Who says land use has to mean commercial, institutional — the whole boring lot? Could this lack of human land use reflect the society’s preference for property over people? WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 26
1. AN ATLAS OF LOVE AND HATE: DETROIT RELATIONS ANDREW HERSCHER ‘The problem of the proper conceptualization of space is resolved through human practice with respect to it. In other words, there are no philosophical answers to philosophical questions that arise over the nature of space—the answers lie in human practice. The question ‘what is space?’ is therefore replaced by the question ‘how is it that different human practices create and make use of different conceptualizations of space?’ David Harvey, Social Justice and the City ‘There is something inherently inhuman within the very essence of humanity insofar as the human capacity for transcendence or self-uplifting […] necessary implies competition and inequality […] (W)hat we know as human has always been given to us by an inhuman temporality and spacing that we cannot fully grasp or control.’ Pheng Cheah, Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights ‘Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell.’ Marvin Gaye
In the auspicious year of 1968, the Detroit Geographical Expedition emerged out of interactions between the radical geographer, William Bunge, and a group of African-American community activists in Detroit. The Expedition was a means to produce a new sort of geographic knowledge about Detroit—knowledge that comprised a resource for Detroit, and especially for its disenfranchised African-American population, rather than for its own sake or for the sake of advancing autonomous discourses or disengaged professions. As an expedition, the project appropriated and subverted a practice that was associated far more with exploitation and violence, as in the contexts of colonialism and imperialism, than with solidarity and survival. The Detroit Geographic Expedition was therefore to yield a wholly new sort of exploration, one founded in collaboration with and in service of the individuals and communities who hitherto had comprised merely objects of scientiﬁc study. Among the projects that the Detroit Geographic Expedition intended to undertake was the documentation of the city’s complex geographical setting, to be published in what was to be titled Atlas of Love and Hate. After Bunge was forced out of his academic position at Detroit’s Wayne State University in the late 1960s, however, the Expedition dissolved, with most of its projects, including the Atlas, left unﬁnished. Yet the compilation of an Atlas of Love and Hate remains as timely now as it was forty years ago. Detroit remains a complex amalgam—of opportunity and disadvantage, participation and exploitation, hope and despair—that dominant narratives of the city, whether those authored by urban boosters (those who love to love) or those authored by aﬁcionados of urban doom (those who love to hate), can hardly encompass. We in the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency have thus returned to the Atlas of Love and Hate as a frame for documenting Detroit’s singular urban conditions. Most of the work in this Atlas was undertaken by the Agency or by students in Detroit Unreal Estate Agency studios, taught in the University of Michigan’s Architecture
— 4 — AN ATLAS OF LOVE AND HATE: DETROIT RELATIONS
Program and in the Dutch Art Institute in the spring of 2009. Other work was contributed by fellow-travelers also invested in re-mapping and re-making Detroit. Reinitiating work on the Atlas, we pose it as, still, a most appropriate form of engagement with Detroit. In his only written comment on the Atlas, Bunge described how ‘its unique feature will be that each map will be the individual contribution of a particular geographer who will be asked to sign his map and brief essay, photograph and supplementary maps to create in a sense a journal of maps.’1 Apprehending this description along with the Expedition’s intent to reveal hitherto repressed or ignored geographies, the Agency has resuscitated the Atlas as a vehicle for re-describing, and thus reimagining, Detroit. Responsibilities William Bunge staged the Detroit Geographic Expedition as, centrally, an instrument to ameliorate the suffering, poverty and violence that suffused everyday life for many communities in Detroit. In so doing, the Expedition was to map the geography of the city in all its contradictions and dualities: It is not a ‘nice’ geography or a status quo geography. It is a geography that tends to shock because it includes the full range of human experience on the earth’s surface; not just the recreation land, but the blighted land; not just the afﬂuent, but the poor; not just the beautiful, but the ugly. 2 The love and hate that was going to be documented in the Atlas, then, indexed the complex condition that confronted residents in Detroit. This condition was at times and places enabling, but at other times and places disabling. The disablement was profound; ‘the biggest problems we have taken on,’ wrote Gwendolyn Warren, director of the Expedition, ‘are death, hunger, pain, sorrow and frustration in children.’3 For Bunge, the dialectic between abundance and scarcity was a direct outcome of capitalism, a political economy in which spaces of investment and disinvestment were
structurally enmeshed with one another. In Detroit as elsewhere, this enmeshment was legitimized by racism and other ideologies that naturalized inequality and social suffering. Responsible labor, for Bunge, had to respond to these social conditions. Rather than bracketing inequality and suffering so as to get on with business as usual, whatever that business happened to be, the Expedition was premised on taking on what it understood as the ‘biggest problems’ in contemporary social life. The call for ‘responsibility,’ however, did not end thought on how to act, how to intervene in the city and how to proceed with expeditions, urban or otherwise— though this is exactly what conventional accounts of responsibility often suggest. Rather, in the Detroit Geographic Expedition, to become responsible meant becoming open and vulnerable—to others and to the unknown. It meant, therefore, beginning thought on how to act. As Thomas Keenan has described, ‘it is when we do not know what we should do, when the effects and conditions of our actions can no longer be calculated, and when we have nowhere else to turn, not even back onto our ‘self,’ that we encounter something like responsibility.’4 Bunge’s reﬂections on the need to get lost in order to ﬁnd Detroit similarly express this concept of responsibility as an opening to the unprecedented. Representations To precisely represent inequality and suffering, as the Detroit Geographical Expedition intended, was to defamiliarize these phenomena, to reveal them to public attention, and to thereby open them to possible political transformation. ‘Where Commuters Run Over Black Children on the Pointes-Downtown Track,’ for example, is a map from the Expedition’s third discussion paper, The Geography of the Children of Detroit.5 The map shows how structural conditions in and around Detroit—the lack of play spaces for inner-city children, the routing of commuter trafﬁc through inner-city neighborhoods, and so on—result in tragedies that can only be described as ‘accidents’ with enormous ironic detachment.
— 5 — ENTICED AND EXPECTANT
Map from Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute, The Geography of the Children of Detroit (Detroit: Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute, 1971).
— 6 — AN ATLAS OF LOVE AND HATE: DETROIT RELATIONS
Map from Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute, The Geography of the Children of Detroit (Detroit: Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute, 1971).
— 7 — ENTICED AND EXPECTANT
Another map from the same discussion paper compares open space around large houses in the wealthy neighborhood of Bloomﬁeld Hills with open space around small houses in a disadvantaged neighborhood in inner-city Detroit. Locating such elements as play areas, gym equipment, living and dead trees and shrubs, bicycles and tricycles, and trash, this map reveals the ﬁne grain of inequality in Detroit—an inequality that produced what Bunge later termed a ‘City of Death,’ a ‘City of Need,’ and a ‘City of Superﬂuity’ in close adjacency to one another.6 Resisting simpliﬁed oppositions of thought versus action, Bunge posed the making of maps like these as a ﬁrst step towards changing maps and the worlds that maps represent. To represent sites of suffering and injustice, Bunge wrote, is to begin to ‘do our share now, to change the map of the world; to wipe off that map the sources of hate so that hatred of man towards man perishes before he does.’ 7 ‘Maps can have a near physical power.’8 With this, Bunge alluded to the labor of representation that underscored the Expedition’s ethical task of assisting survival. While ‘the power of the Expedition itself,’ wrote Bunge, ‘must be in the hands of the people being explored,’ the Expedition made use of geography’s techniques and practices in order to represent the relation of these ‘people being explored’ to one another and to their urban environment. 9 The representation of blight, poverty and violence thus provided resources to empower community members to become knowledgeable about themselves and their predicaments in new ways, and to organize themselves around the amelioration of those predicaments, as well. Politics, Jacques Rancière has written, ‘revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time.’10 The maps and other representations, visual and textual, that the Detroit Geographical Expedition produced thus opened onto political forms of representation and the full range of transformations that those forms promise.
Collaborations The practice of representation did not render the Expedition’s geographers simply interlocutors for a silent or silenced community, giving voice or visibility to that community. Rather, representations were to emerge from ‘dialogic encounters’ in which both Expedition members and community situated themselves in relation to one another, learning together about the situations and circumstances that they mutually confront, negotiate and contend with.11 Communities in need, then, were far from passive recipients of humanitarian assistance or support; rather, the Detroit Geographic Expedition conjoined its members with the members of the communities in which it worked in new ways, both conceptually and pragmatically. Both Expedition members and community members were sources of knowledge and active agents; they worked together to articulate knowledge about the city they each were invested in. Bunge thus described the collaboration between geographers and residents as a necessary, not optional dimension of urban exploration: If you sit on a front step and listen to people talk they often talk about the urban geography of the city but seldom about anything the census is measuring: a child was almost hit at the corner by a speeding teenager, a landlord refused to ﬁx the plumbing, the park is becoming a hangout for teenage narcotic users, a lady had her purse snatched on the nearby commercial street…12 The preceding are elements of what Michel Foucault called ‘subjugated knowledge,’ or ‘naïve knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientiﬁcity.’13 For the Detroit Geographic Expedition, the truth of Detroit lay precisely in this knowledge. The Expedition, then, did not engage in ‘learning from Detroit,’ drawing knowledge out of the city and its citizens as one more variety of exportable resource. Nor was the Expedition ‘stalking Detroit,’ foregrounding the asymmetrical relationship between the attention it paid to the city and the attention the
— 8 — AN ATLAS OF LOVE AND HATE: DETROIT RELATIONS
city paid to it. Rather, the Expedition proposed to learn about Detroit and its communities with and for those communities themselves—a proposition that reﬂects not only a pragmatic stake in solving problems (‘helping the human species most directly’) but also a conceptual stake in rendering local communities and researchers as subjects and objects of knowledge alike. Atlas of Love and Hate This Atlas contains a heterogeneous group of projects authored by people with multiple and shifting relationships to the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency and to Detroit itself. The Agency, in this sense, has existed as an accessible and mobile platform—an expedition, of sorts, available to individuals and communities with diverse ranges of agencies, intentions and interests, all intersecting in some way with Detroit. At times, the relationship between people on this platform has been quite a love/hate one—between students and teachers, between those claiming local credentials and those enjoying a stranger’s liberties, and between those who seemed like do-gooders and those who seemed like constant critics unable or willing to do good. Should the Agency buy a house? Should the Agency always work as an ensemble? Should the Agency have a logo? The members of the Agency have bonded and fought over these and many other questions, large and small, including the form and contents of this very publication. Were we loving and hating each other in the best of times? The worst of times? Or all the time? Having spent a great deal of time on the Agency’s platform, I cannot say. What I can say at this time, however, is simply that the Agency has assumed some of the complexity of the city that it is seeking to explore. The Atlas of Love and Hate documents a few results of this exploration— preliminary, tentative and propositional. The work of the Detroit Geographic Expedition does not just furnish a model for this Atlas of Love and Hate; these concepts also furnish metrics with which to measure the incompleteness and inadequacy of the Atlas. Indeed, just as the Expedition failed to realize the Atlas forty years ago, we have in countless ways failed to meet
the Expedition’s ambitions in our very completion of the project. Yet, whether this Atlas whether it evokes love or hate, we hope that it serves to inspire more speculation on Detroit, more engagement with Detroit and more alternatives for Detroit’s future. Perhaps, too, this Atlas can serve as to reconnect the ambitions of the Detroit Geographic Expedition to explorations of and interventions in the contemporary city more generally. Today, the deﬁnition and identity of urban communities may be more complex and dynamic than in the Detroit of the 1970s; nevertheless, the Expedition offers manifold possibilities for re-thinking the study of the city and for negotiating the love and hate that this study so readily provokes. 1 2 Bunge, The First Years of the Detroit Geographical Expedition: A Personal Report, 4. 3 Gwendolyn Warren, ‘About the Work in Detroit,’ The Geography of the Children of Detroit, ed. Detroit Geographical Expedition (Detroit: Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute, 1971), 10. 4 Thomas Keenan, Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 2. 5 Detroit Geographical Expedition, The Geography of the Children of Detroit (Detroit: Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute, 1971). 6 William Bunge, ‘Detroit Humanly Viewed: The American Urban Present,’ in Human Geography in a Shrinking World, eds. Ronald Abler, Donald Janelle, Allen Philbrick and John Sommer (North Scituate: Duxbury Press, 1975). 7 Bunge, The First Years of the Detroit Geographical Expedition: A Personal Report, 30. 8 Bunge, The First Years of the Detroit Geographical Expedition: A Personal Report, 11. 9 Bunge, The First Years of the Detroit Geographical Expedition: A Personal Report, 39. 10 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Continuum, 2004), 13. 11 ‘Dialogic encounter’ is drawn from Andy Merryﬁeld, ‘Situated Knowledge Through Exploration: Reﬂections on Bunge’s ‘Geographical Expeditions’,’ Antipode 27:1 (1995), 62. 12 Hidden Landscapes: Field Manual No. 5 (Detroit: Detroit Geographical Expedition, no date), 7-8. 13 Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 81.
— 9 — CURIOUS AND PATIENT
But the greatest potential lies in ‘folk geographers.’ Down through the centuries, geographers have been finding ‘native guides,’ rarely their peers, and have been getting these ‘guides’ to lead ‘their’ expeditions WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 20
2. THE DETROIT BUREAU OF TOURISM NICK TOBIER You rarely hear someone say that they’re going to visit Detroit. To visit family in Detroit perhaps, but rarely the city itself. If someone does come to visit on their own, how they might navigate the city is a challenge. Detroit is fabulously huge – a good 137 square miles, with a decided absence of landmarks visible from a distance, a robust supply of wide avenues that intersect at diagonals, and minimal public transportation. Detroit is unlike many major cities in that it is both difﬁcult to navigate intuitively (by landmark, by recognizable district) and it lacks a tourist industry infrastructure (advertising, tour buses, visitors center) that could guide visitors to experience its wealth of complex neighborhoods and social cultures. These conditions in many ways render Detroit hard to decipher and so subject to stereotypes, external projections and anachronistic visions. A few years ago I began to sense that these conditions could be reset, or at least set in action to reset, as I walked around neighborhoods with their residents, many of whom spend their lives on one side of the city or the other, rendering the city a collection of villages with tremendous local knowledge. The Detroit Bureau of Tourism is a project that seeks to capitalize on sharing the gap between visitors and residents. This aspiration was fueled by an incident, often repeated, and an observation: I received an email from a ‘not-to-be-named’ country on the subject of visiting Detroit, asking if I could show a few visitors around. After a visit to the belching blast furnaces of Ford’s River Rouge Plant, taking in the rarely matched visual exuberance of the Guardian Building and perusing the eccentric treasures of John King Books, the leader of the ﬂock I was sheparding said, ‘Excuse me, could you take us to the crazy places where the poor black people burn down their houses?‘ Every postcard of Detroit sports either a corporate branded arena, the Ambassador Bridge (which takes people away from here as much as it brings them),
or the neo-classical ﬁgurative sculpture, The Spirit of Detroit (Marshall Fredericks, 1955). These incidents characterize the most prevalent touristic experience of Detroit. In forging an alternate route, the Detroit Bureau of Tourism set this challenge: What extraordinary thing would you show an outsider in your neighborhood? Asking individual Detroiters to build a collective vision of a city that is notoriously fragmented seems appropriate. Rather than relying on the external master narrative of capitalism’s collapse, the tours that follow describe from the ground up views from local experts. Poorism, a term used to describe the ﬁrst incident, fuels waves of visitors who marvel at the City as a picturesque, romantic tumble of ruins. There, between the failure of public transportation (Michigan Central Station) and the failure of capitalism (Packard Plant) lies a ruined society (too many residential neighborhoods). The narrative that accompanies these visits has contributions from the once-upon-a time-yarn (‘It was a beautiful city, they called it the Paris of North America’) and an implicit racial narrative in which the city’s citizens, a majority population of African-Americans, are the visible stewards for their hometown. The antecedents for the form of these tours come from a few avant-garde sources – the poetic wanderings of Parisian Dadaists, the derive of Asger Jorn and Guy DeBord’s Situationsists, and the tours of everyday sounds and objects along Canal Street in NYC in the early 1970s led by Nam June Paik as an element of Fluxus practice. Each of these offered artists the chance to experience the world through a series of chance occurrences. The Detroit Bureau of Tourism extends the strategies of seeing the world as inherently interesting and democratizing, both for the guides and the audience, with tours that are designed by a wide spectrum of authors, and which can be self-guided. There are some other kindred spirits – specialized walking tours of Victorian homes in Brush Park, eating
— 10 — THE DETROIT BUREAU OF TOURISM
tours of Mexican Town, and most notably, the efforts of former Wayne State geographer, William Bunge. Bunge’s tour structure, under the auspices of the Detroit Geographical Expedition was entitled The Human Tour of Detroit and proposed to bridge the social divide between black and white as well as city and suburb. Following the upheavals of the Detroit rebellion of 1967, these tours proposed to ferry largely white visitors from the safety of Ann Arbor an hour west into the city to hear from black residents. The Human Tour of Detroit never ran, but nonetheless, Bunge provides an inspiration and a departure point for the Detroit Bureau of Tourism, which believes that the shape and form of the city is part of a complex set of social and political circumstances, and that the best way to contend with these is not to impose a speciﬁc social agenda on the outcome or the content, but rather to incorporate the Fluxus spirit of play and discovery through direct social interactions. Each tour that follows is drawn from a relatively ﬁnite area – ten or so blocks at most – and is a representative sampling selecting four stops and their corresponding images from 25-30 that make up the entire itinerary for each tour. The text that accompanies each is the narrative supplied by the tour guide. One vision is that the tours could offer a source of income – each guide part of a network of independent contractors linked by a website, logo and an identifying street kiosk. All photographs Nick Tobier, 2009
— 11 —
You see that bull? Or maybe it’s a cow. It’s like a Dairy Queen but for meat. Head back west on Mack towards downtown near Iroquois and there’s a ice cream place. This place, sometimes they open it up but that’s been awhile.
TOUR ONE T
CURIOUS AND PATIENT
Islandview and Indian village Neighborhoods, led by Warren.
They got an afterhours joint in there. Down in the basement. You go around back. It gets bumping around 4. You could go – I saw a white dude there last week. Thursdays and Sundays. Sundays
You don’t know the button man? He’s always there outside that Liquor Store on Mack near Mt. Elliot. He dresses up for his job. I think he’s the dude that does that, it, th t what h t ddo you call ll it The Hillsdale? You know the place where they got teddy bears and whatnot all over the houses?
Heidelberg. That’s it. He’s the Heidelberg guy I think. He’s got a button collection to beat the band. He makes d. H those things he wears. ars
There. See that right there? That was the trolley tracks. Used to have all sorts of ways to get around – streetcars. Now the mayor says they’re going to cut buses down. No service on weekends, none after 6. That’s craziness. How are people who are poor supposed to get around?
— 12 — This is one of the auto plants used to be here. They made Packard ﬁrst then I think someone bought the factory then that closed to. In the 80s they used to have some wild parties in here, I’m telling you. Now you ﬁnd scrap hunters pulling out whatever they can sell.
THE DETROIT BUREAU OF TOURISM
TOUR O ONE
This whole area used to be Blackbottom and Paradise Valley. Still is home of the black folks, but all the things used to be here – bakeries, nightclubs, Hastings Street. They’re all gone. gone Now we got the A-rabs. They alright, keep all the little corner stores open real late.
I started eating better when I got older. For my health. We used to have a Farmer Jack on the east side, now nothing. I go to meetings, try to get something going so people can eatt better. b tt I started t t d my garden two years back – this is not mine this one is near Gratiot.
A lot of people are doing good things on the east side. Young people and old people. This one is near Van Dyke on the other side of Gratiot. Some me of these beds they raise up for old like me who ld people l lik h can’t ’t bend down anymore.
Now we’re talking good food. This is real southern food. Southern Fries they call this place. You can walk to Belle Isle from here, walk off some of your lunch. Big food, big place. I go for the panfried perch, baked beans, mac and cheese and sweet tea. Don’t try and come here on a Sunday if you’re hungry. Those ladies come from church and stay all day.
— 13 —
It’s all about looking good down here. You got Surman’s, you got the Broadway. There used to be City Warehouse. There will always be Henry The Hatter. I swear that place was here when they started Detroit. Some of them hats too. They have all those pawn shops so if you’re stone cold broke and you want to look ﬂy – well, there you go.
TOUR TWO T
CURIOUS AND PATIENT
Harmonie Park, led by Benny N.
— 14 — UpSouth and Riverfront neighborhoods, led by Keith My tour is all the things you see that you don’t expect to see downtown over here. See Seagulls? there go dducks! cks! Seag lls? Them too. That’s crazy. Seagulls and ducks in the city. Over here, between the city and the state land right here is a no man’s zone – maybe that’s why its all ladies ﬁshing today but this is no man’s as in don’t no body know who owns this so they let you do whatever you want.
THE DETROIT BUREAU OF TOURISM
TOUR U THREE
This whole area here was ﬁlled with places – businesses, real businesses. Then all of a sudden they built a casino over in Windsor, Canada and you could see cars from Detroit going over to spend their money. In Canada. Detroit decided to build their own casinos right here and they tore down all the businesses. But then they built the casinos somewhere else. Most of it is just empty, but I always get lucky here – because if you sit here, something amazing is going to walk by. Check out those twins. That’s real luck.
See this truck? That’s a city truck and the workers are not supposed to be sleeping on the job in no City truck. Wait till I take their picture then you’re gonna see something else. They gonna ﬂy like that seagull duck thing back there.
— 15 — BOLD AND COMMITTED
My first reaction to my own initiatives was sheepish. Wasn’t I ‘using’ geography? Did I not put the civil rights work first and just twist it into a geographic form? This ‘guilt’ persisted in me for some years, even intensifying, until it finally dawned on me that geography is supposed to be ‘used,’ that I was practicing what other geographers call ‘relevance.’ WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 9
3. SUB_CITY COOKBOOK MARC MAXEY in both support of and protest against the city’s civic leaders. At the same time, Detroit has entered a new real estate paradigm in which ‘return on investment’ is no longer in the lexicon. This eliminates the integral pairing between taxes and economic growth that built the entire American housing market and political landscape – citizens pay property taxes and in return ride positive growth economy all the way to retirement. In Detroit the pairing is broken; as a glance at the city’s monthly property sale reveals, real estate is worth almost nothing, with the sale merely paying for the transaction itself. The buy-in can be masked by tax abatements, as seemingly ‘free’ property, but the fact of the matter is that when you sign up to live or work in Detroit, you purchase a tax burden and ﬁnancial commitment, each which exposes fundamental political relationships that are masked throughout the rest of the country in more stable markets. But this entropic condition of postindustrial America sets the stage for a new frontier of politics and urbanization.
NON PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS
Detroit is a city on life support. Its piecemeal fabric still evoke notions of urbanity, yet its political and infrastructural core is almost dead. In a city that once boasted the largest number of single-family homes in the United States, the city has become the largest landowner; after one million of its residents walked away, no other American city owns more tax-default properties than Detroit. As municipal services are reduced to a bare minimum to cope with a budget continuously in the red, Detroit residents and non-proﬁt organizations are burdened with picking up the slack of the city. Looking closely at the collaboration between non-proﬁts and the city, however, one sees the city pawning off its responsibility to charitable interests, with non-proﬁts assuming this responsibility paradoxically,
SUB_city seeks to take over municipally owned property by ignoring the existing political system and creating a new autonomous city, within the city. Aligning residents, non-proﬁts, and creative practitioners to wage an invisible, non-violent war on the city through a diversion of capital, Sub_city poses Detroit not as a problem to solve but a problem to ignore. SUB_city rejects the notion of supporting a failed government. It does so by claiming city-owned land for productive use without paying taxes to the defunct city. Instead of attempting to leak into the failing city government to ignite change, the new city emerges with a shared vision already forming on the ground. Through networked ecologies of organizations and individuals, a decentralized constituency forms to begin the foundation for Sub_City. Action manifests itself in creative acts of subversion, organizing groups and individuals for mutual beneﬁts, and providing services to depleted neighborhoods by way of small-scale entrepreneurship. Territory is marked through a curatorial process of spatial interventions:
— 16 — SUB_CITY COOKBOOK
— 17 — BOLD AND COMMITTED
Suspended Disbelief_ is an act of reappropriation; an abandoned and dilapidated house in Detroit is renovated whereby portions of the house are suspended to create a ﬂoating and dematerializing structure. The valueless becomes valuable as it creates an anticipatory space; it is a house in transition, deconstructing and reconstructing itself simultaneously. Liner Gardening_ SUB_city will have community gardens, stretching for miles, in single rows. A narrow strip of corn runs through 1,000 backyards, stitching fragmented neighborhoods, and connecting others. Instead of attracting community, the garden confronts community. Tending a strip of horizontal garden becomes political: to keep it alive is to vote for the community. Dying segments of the row index nonparticipation. Continuous Monument of Dis_urbanization_ Suspended disbelief multiplies throughout the city. One hundred abandoned and burned out structures ﬂoat above the ground plane. They are charged full of energy, and begin migrating towards a larger gesture: the Continuous Monument of Dis_urbanization. Unlike Superstudio’s 1969 Continuous Monument, which was an expression of man over nature, the Continuous Monument of Dis_urbanization emphasizes the nature of total urbanization over man, the mass exodus of capital, River Rouge, and the power to render the city into a suburb.
month, a portion of a borrower’s mortgage payment is put into an escrow account where it accumulates until insurance premiums or annual property taxes are due, at which time the lender carries out the transaction. This automates the entire process for all parties involved, and eliminates the borrower’s responsibility to ‘save’ money for future expenses, thus one payment is made each month that ultimately satisﬁes other transactions throughout the year. Although this may simplify one’s ﬁnancial picture, it also abstracts an important transaction, which is a citizen’s payment of taxes to the government. This further dilutes the fundamental pairing of property ownership to government support. As Sub_City propagates throughout Detroit, residents and business owners will be given the option of protesting their failed city through the diversion of tax funds (sales, property and income tax) to a Sub_City Escrow Account. Initially acting as a typical mortgage escrow account, the Sub_City Account will continue to gain momentum as more residents begin to politically identify with the new city. When critical mass is reached and there is enough participation in the tax loop, the switch is ﬂipped, creating a single violent act of capital warfare. Tax revenue that was once ﬂowing to Detroit now begins to accumulate in SUB_city’s Treasury Department, expanding the new city’s programs and services. Detroit instantly weaken, allowing SUB_city to emerge as a new form of post-industrial urbanization. All images Marx Maxey, 2009
The Urban Combine_ Composed of retired construction equipment mashed up to create a single machine, the Urban Combine consumes concrete, brick, and asphalt to produce gabions. Grappling paddles move and stack the gabions into place inside old foundations to create huge footings for The Continuous Monument of Dis_urbanization. The Urban Combine consumes the bones of Detroit. SUB_city Escrow Account_ Mortgages in the US are typically managed with an escrow account, which functions similarly to a personal checking account. Each
— 18 — SUB_CITY COOKBOOK
— 19 — We must do our share now, to change the map of the world; to wipe off that map the sources of hate so that hatred of man towards man perishes before he does. WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 30
FERVENT AND ENGAGED
4. FREE SPEECH KARAOKE SHELBY MOFFETT AND ROBERT SMILEY JR Free Speech Karaoke enables its participants, audience and volunteer orators alike, to live some of our century’s most poignant speeches through reenactment. It can be customized for any city or culture that promotes free speech. The set-up consists of a stage with a backdrop, a microphone, an ampliﬁer, a stand and a speech book. Our speech book is made up of an open list of famous speeches that have made American history through their vision, courage and exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of expression. These speeches give orators the opportunity to step up and keep their messages alive: from Sojourner Truth’s advocacy for women’s rights to newly-elected President Obama’s demands for ‘change’. The medium of karaoke also allows people to relate to the words of esteemed public ﬁgures through their own oratorical ﬂare. Karaoke thus acts as a catalyst to break people out of the shells they occupy in everyday life; it provides a spotlight to encourage, inspire, evoke thought or bring laughter through public performances of free speech.
... A CATALYST TO BREAK PEOPLE OUT OF THE SHELLS THEY OCCUPY IN EVERYDAY LIFE; IT PROVIDES A SPOTLIGHT TO ENCOURAGE, INSPIRE, EVOKE THOUGHT OR BRING LAUGHTER THROUGH PUBLIC PERFORMANCES OF FREE SPEECH.
The Free Speech Karaoke stand was designed for the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency studio at the University of Michigan, in response to the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s call for ‘Actions: What You Can Do With the City.’ It was inaugurated in January of 2009, on the occasion of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
— 20 — FREE SPEECH KARAOKE
— 21 — Everyone comes from a providence somewhere and a sophisticate is one who knows it. We can never really know how a foreigner feels — but this understanding is more understanding than that displayed by the provincial. He thinks the whole world is his province. AGITATED AND IMPASSIONED
WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 10
5. SPERAMUS MELIORA JIMINI HIGNETT Armed just with a list of proposals when Jimini Hignett left Amsterdam for Detroit, the only thing actually decided upon was a title - Destroit. But on arrival she found the destitution utterly overwhelming. Her title, and her project, soon changed. Monday, April 6th How to make art when everything is this fucked up? These are our ﬁrst days in the city. The weather has suddenly turned nasty, it is minus God-knows-what and there is a thick layer of snow on the ground. Homicidal icicles are forming from the blocked and damaged gutters. Our house has no heating. From time to time water pours through the ceiling because the waste pipes in the upstairs apartment have been broken for ages and the landlord has not got around to having them ﬁxed. My friend Lado has to pull his mattress out away from the wall and sleep with his head at the other end to avoid getting dripped on. He has been running a fever for 3 days now. Our porch is piled with the remnants of previous inhabitants; a broken rocking chair and pieces of once ephemeral material now scuffed and sodden. In our yard is a magnolia tree, just budding but thwarted by the snow, surrounded by junk – bits of an old boiler, jagged shapes of carpet scrap, plastic frames of indeterminable objects, the inevitable plastic bags wrapped tightly around harsh twigs by the icy wind. But even if the weather relented, it would not be this clutter that prevented us from sitting out there anyway. We are laying low, doors and windows closed, trying not to attract attention. Though the houses around look blind, there is a sense that they are, nonetheless, all eyes and ears. Tuesday, April 7th On the street this morning I’m instantly recognised as ‘other’, more than once I’m queried about the ‘artists group’ they’ve heard is coming? This either with a disconcertingly expectant grin – anticipating if not a transformation, then at least something temporarily uplifting – or with a somehow less unsettling, sceptical squint, ‘Artists huh?’ that’ll just be the usual bullshit.
Someone has certainly succeeded in promoting us down the line – New York Times, CNN. The publicity grates, I feel as though we ourselves have fallen for some spectacular façade, a mirage of expectancies and now here we are in the freezing cold, ﬁguring out how to make art out of nothing, and stay alive in the process. Wednesday, April 8th I have laid aside the list of possible plans, my ‘46 proposals for Detroit’, with which I left Amsterdam. An implausible collection, unconstrained by the limits of either time or ﬁnances (Dubai-style palm-frond island and heated Lake St. Claire; Reality show swap scheme for temporary life-style exchange between residents of Grosse Pointe and inhabitants of Highland Park; Dismantling a wooden house and re-using the wood to build an ark, making the people of Detroit the ‘chosen people’ (instead of an abandoned one), Etc. Plus a title for the project - DESTROIT.) Here now, the magnitude of it all has hit me – the hugeness of the city itself, but also, the extent of the desolation, the depravation, the wretchedness. The sheer and utter hopeless enormity of the place. Certainly this vastness, particularly after Holland with its claustrophobic lack of space, also inﬂames the imagination with the sense of inﬁnite possibilities, a playground of opportunities. But I cannot feel comfortable simply playing here, turning a blind eye and encapsulating myself in the rare air of the artist’s enclave. Thursday, April 9th The very height of authenticity, next door to our left is a crackhouse. Sallow women with caved in faces come and go, scurrying, rodent-like. Through the night there is banging and screaming – ‘Open the door bitch!’ – noisy cars, their souped up exhausts pounding the walls, almost drowning out their rap music. After dark I fumble my way from kitchen to bedroom, afraid to turn on lamps for fear of showing, on the borrowed sheets that are hung as makeshift curtains, the silhouette of a woman alone. Our neighbours on the other side are unobtrusive people whose language I cannot understand and in
— 22 — SPERAMUS MELIORA
Pulford Street, Photo by Raymond Huizinga the evenings there is the sweet smell of curry. Mostly limiting myself to the immediate area. Standing hard on the pedals. Even in the daytime we stick out like alien tourists. Like ﬂeeing prey on our bicycles – are we afraid, or just ashamed? Friday, April 10th A few lots further along the street are houses burned to charred sticks, their roofs caving in, what’s left of their windows boarded with ragged plywood. Their blackened contents spew out onto the surrounding lot and the pavement in front – plastic children’s games; old vinyl records in brown paper envelopes; a plywood strongbox stencilled with sculls, its lock forced and zinc innards empty; smashed crockery with roses. Here we salvage saucers and spoons.
Saturday, April 11th Scavenging in Highland Park, an already looted neighbourhood, rummaging with bare hands through terrifying heaps of DNA swabs, scuffed ﬁngerprint forms and dissolving Polaroid mugshots – a city of individual lives reduced to abandoned ﬁles of molding paper in the stagnant courthouse. The scene has such clarity as a symbol encapsulating a late-capitalist society gone wrong, that despite the traumatic post-apocalypticsm, it feels disconcertingly like a godsend. In our leaky apartment I swab the crumbling plaster off the salvaged mugshot negatives in the bathtub and feel despondency starting to ooze in. How to make art from these images of such pain, such abandonment?
— 23 —
AGITATED AND IMPASSIONED
Pulford Street, Photo by Jimini Hignett Sunday, April 12th I am having serious doubts about my continued participation in this project – such pretensions. Curators, like political administrators, need to have a convincing line of spin and to cultivate connections in useful places – in this case, the other faces of Detroit –Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD), University of Michigan, the media, etc. With politicians one is accustomed to expecting the worst, millions promised for resurrection of dying neighbourhoods resulting in prestigious superﬁcial surgery, a great deal of photo-opportunity and very little actual beneﬁt to those for whom the project purports to be intended. Another high status walkway and 23 more schools closed down. Do I want to be part of a setup where art-bytes seem to be more important than actual art? Where clearly the temporary façade is more important than any actual improvement – to be seen to be doing something more important than actually doing anything. This is a world I am usually at pains to avoid. No longer able to feel comfortable with a work ironic or cynical, or a sharp oneliner, I remain guiltily silent about my humorous word game – Destroit. Monday, April 13th Nerve-wrackingly lost, seeking out the cemetery adjacent to the collapsing Packard plant (dramatic devastation, spectacularly picturesque, inhumanly daunting) it is this strip of land, a burial ground separated from the broken factory asphalt only by the inevitable chain-link fence that moves me.
— 24 — SPERAMUS MELIORA
Klinger Street, Photo by Berenika Boberska Here, on this strip of rubbery soil, bare earth churned by tyre-treads, among the headstones of teenaged men, I recall the ofﬁcial motto of the City of Detroit. It’s Latin; Speramus Meliora, Resurget Cineribus, which means, ‘We hope for better things. We shall arise from the ashes.’ Wednesday, April 14th Borrowing a jigsaw, a woolly hat, and the use of a yard, I saw up pieces of foraged plywood into a 9x6 foot billboard with fret-worked words. It’s time this city’s motto was re-appropriated – we can only hope for better things and, with all these charred ruins around, imagine some phoenix arising from these ashes.
requires no small effort. Returning to our no-longer snowbound house one last time, I wrap remnants from the abandoned police station carefully between my clothes, and ﬁnd myself handling them tenderly as if the fragile essence of those depicted somehow clung to these, their precarious photographic remains. Sometime I will know how to include them in a work, but for the time being they are too raw, too painful to be simply exposed. Bags packed, I pull away the dingy sheetcurtains, and see that someone has cleared the trash. Outside, the magnolia tree is blossoming.
Thursday, April 15th We afﬁx the billboards, in lieu of the standard plywood boarding-up, over the gaping windows of two charred houses, in neighbourhoods where I imagine hope
— 25 — It is not a ‘nice’ geography or a status quo Geography. It is a geography that tends to shock because it includes the full range of human experience on the earth’s surface: not just the recreation land, but the blighted land; not just the affluent, but the poor; not just the beautiful, but the ugly.
6. UNITED NATIONS OF DETROIT ANDREW HERSCHER How to understand the geography of social suffering in Detroit? One startling way is to understand it globally– to correlate indices of social suffering in Detroit to those places around the world with identical statistics. These maps advance such correlations; what they reveal is that, in terms of infant mortality, Detroit appears to be what is sometimes called a ‘developing country’ and, in terms of poverty levels, Detroit appears to be what is sometimes called a ‘post-conﬂict environment’. In both cases, the situation of Detroit strikingly belies the city’s location within the United States – if, that is, the United States is understood as a place of prosperity, liberty and equal opportunity.
DISAPPOINTED AND INDIGNANT
WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 4
These maps follow up on a map produced in the late 1960s by William Bunge. Published in the essay, ‘Detroit Humanly Viewed’, Bunge’s map showed how Detroit’s western and eastern edges, then still populated by white, middle-class majorities, shared infant mortality rates with countries like Australia, Norway and France, while inner city neighborhoods populated by disenfranchised African-American majorities shared rates with countries like Guyana, Trinidad and Bulgaria. Today, Detroit is far more homogenous; these maps document how the city’s suffering is far more pronounced, its global referents are far less diverse and its difference from American norms is far more extensive. DATA ON DETROIT: WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY, DETROIT KIDS DATA PROJECT DATA ON INTERNATIONAL INFANT MORTALITY AND POVERTY RATES: US CENSUS BUREAU, INTERNATIONAL DATABASE
— 26 —
INFANT MORTALITY (INFANT DEATHS PER 1,000 LIVE BIRTHS)
POVERTY (PERCENTAGE OF UNDER-65 POPULATION BELOW THE NATIONAL POVERTY LINE)
Map Andrew Herscher, 2009. Map Illustration Nina Bianchi, 2009.
— 27 — ... All people have beautiful languages and they must be learned in order to understand the beauty that they see. This universal law applies to the ‘Eskimos’ and to peddlers on Chicago’s 43rd street. WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 7
THE ALTERNATIVE PRESS
GENEROUS AND IRONIC
7. POETIC JUSTICE Founded in the late 1960s, the Alternative Press attempted to do for poetry what the Detroit Geographic Expedition attempted to do for geography—to present a seemingly esoteric and academic practice to the public, for the public’s own uses, devices and pleasures. The Press was founded by the poet Ken Mikolowski and the painter Ann Mikolowski. In 1969, the Mikolowskis bought a letterpress from the Detroit Artists’ Workshop, which had been publishing material on Detroit’s burgeoning avant-garde music and poetry scenes for the previous three years. Synthesizing the Artists’ Workshop free press orientation with the aspirations of a literary press, the Alternative Press began by printing broadsides (8.5by-11-inch sheets printed on one side), postcards and bookmarks with poems. The authors of these poems were both Detroit-based writers and a network of fellowtravelers from across America, especially poets from Beat and Black Mountain backgrounds. The output of the Press was initially distributed on the streets outside the Mikolowskis’ house on Detroit’s Cass Corridor. In 1971, the Press initiated a subscription service by means of which readers could subscribe to the Press by paying a nominal fee and, in return, receive the Press’s annual output by mail. While the texts of the poems published by the Alternative Press were often raw, direct or confrontational, the poems themselves were printed with ﬁnesse and delicacy, producing a frisson between word and page that was at once ironic and defamiliarizing. Detroit is often represented in the output of the Alternative Press, but that very output also served to transform the city, establishing new circuits of communication between writers and readers, artists and activists, and locals and strangers alike. TOP: ‘Pearls,’ Sadiq Bey, postcard, The Alternative Press, 1999, courtesy Ken Mikolowski BOTTOM: ‘No Money in Art,’ Jim Gustafson, broadside, The Alternative Press, 1988, courtesy Ken Mikolowski
— 28 — POETIC JUSTICE
‘Sonnymoon For Us All,’ Koﬁ Natambu, broadside, The Alternative Press, 1989, courtesy Ken Mikolowski
— 29 —
GENEROUS AND IRONIC
‘I Cant be Satisﬁed,’ John Sinclair, broadside, The Alternative Press, 1984, courtesy Ken Mikolowski
— 30 — POETIC JUSTICE
‘The Idea of Detroit,’ Jim Gustafson, broadside, The Alternative Press, 1976, courtesy Ken Mikolowski
— 31 — Humans are often of great significance to geographers but are extremely difficult, even dangerous, to map. If the features of the earth’s surface of interest to mankind include the human condition, then vast stretches of the map are in fact as ‘unexplored’ as Antarctica in 1850 and should appear under that label and in the traditional intriguing chalk white color. WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 38
PERSISTENT AND PATIENT
8. GEOGRAPHY OF ABSENCE: THE DETROIT TOUR-MISSED MAP CRAIG WILKINS
I attended a conference about ten years ago in Detroit where a presenter, in an attempt to devise a method for Detroit to capitalize on its rich history, suggested that instead of re habbing its hundreds of deserted buildings, the city should market them as ruins. The proposal was, in effect, an attempt to render Detroit as a kind of postindustrial Athens. Detroiters, unable to see beyond the misplaced arrogance of the suggestion, not surprisingly ate him alive. I was, however, intrigued. Having gone to school in the city some decades before, what struck me about the proposal was what appeared to be the choice of history – the ability to determine what to claim as past, and what not to. Clearly, Detroiters thought one thing about what to claim and the presenter something else. Yet, whether he knew it or not, the presenter was on to something. In the American rust belt, obsessively produced manicured landscapes stand in sharp contrast to the neglected sites of ruins – industrial, economic and social – places on the margin that, by their very nature, accommodate transgressive and unregulated activities and that, to date, defy most attempts at order. These are not places with which cities in general, and Detroit in particular, wish to be associated. In fact, images of ruination are often spun as the anomaly rather than the rule, propagating a kind of utilitarian logic arguing for policies that maintain or enhance the economic position, social prestige, or political power of the city as natural and primary. In the past, that primacy might have been accomplished through industrial production, but today it is increasingly established through service and tourism agencies. The result is that the prestige of the city is now no longer tied to the production of actual and tangible exports (i.e., cars), but to an ability to solicit capital and tourists (i.e., stars and bars). One might reasonably ask, ‘What’s the danger in eradicating problematic urban sites and replacing them with homogeneous new developments?’ In fact, the logic behind this question so dominates the development landscape that the question is almost
rhetorical. According to this logic, the derelict factory, the abandoned school and the urban alleyway left unattended, unaltered and ultimately unused are the enemies of the urban transition that modernity tells us is both inevitable and necessary. This is a transition that requires a continuous presentation of the city as spectacle while simultaneously working to conceal elements that might compete with or threaten that spectacle by sometimes friendly – historic preservation, adaptive reuse – and sometimes unfriendly – right-sizing, demolition – yet always unilateral means. Currently, the trend is towards the former, primarily because these ‘friendly’ means can be tied to cultural tourism, one of the few growing sectors of economic potential for municipalities, both on the supply side – why build anew when you have existing structures awaiting uses – and the demand side – as the future of the country looks less and less like its past, many enjoy the reassurance that its past is still worth remembering. But if increased historic preservation, restoration and reconstruction reﬂect a kind of maturation of America, they also highlight controversies over what is preserved, by whom and to what ends. What’s lost when we remove traces of history from the shared landscape, public memory and common language, simply to attract the transitory capital of business and tourism? In the scenario marked by casinos, ball parks, stadiums and auto shows, what is to be made of the city outside the beautiful sell? In this particular moment, when the capitalist project of rugged individualism is crying for once unimaginable social(ist) support, who makes the decisions about what history is palatable for future generations to remember, especially when history is an increasingly marketable municipal commodity? The students of Studio:Detroit, taught at the University of Michigan in the winter semester of 2008-2009, concluded that what is typically left unconsidered in questions about urban preservation and development are the perspectives of those who live and move through the city as residents and workers. The studio
— 32 — GEOGRAPHY OF ABSENCE: THE DETROIT TOUR-MISSED MAP
S SI T E thus turned its investigative eye to mapping signiﬁcant city sites – physical, spatial, psychological – as deﬁned by both outsiders and insiders, in both cases as a way to resist the creeping homogenization of history’s commoditiﬁcation. In developing their ‘Detroit TourMissed’ map, the studio relied on both planned and impromptu meetings with known and unknown city residents to collaboratively identify spaces and places that either recovered excluded histories or provided alternative histories to those already written. The map and corresponding postcards resulting from that process operate thusly:
Map The base map places six color coded ‘odysseys’ that make up tours of uncovered and rediscovered Detroit – Music & Entertainment, African-American, Manufacturing and Transportation, Community and Commerce – within the larger context of the city itself. The odysseys consist of physical, spatial and psychological sites. As the histories revealed along these paths become permanent parts of the larger urban history of Detroit, additional odysseys could be added, either to the base document or perhaps new ones. Sites Postcards are designed to visually identify sites as they once and currently exist. Text only provides initial context, as the edges of the cards are marked by a series of color-coded numbers corresponding to locations along a speciﬁc odyssey through the city. Deployment The map and postcards provide multiple methods of engaging the city’s various and multi-layered histories. The map can be added to, not only by its academic and community creators, but by travelers as well. The postcards encourage the traveler to make notes to update histories which are kept or ‘told’ via mail to interested or perhaps random parties, and to add recovered histories to the larger narrative being written about the city. Cards could be either collected and archived or allowed to circulate, forwarded from one
place to another, further spreading the voice of the untold city. These deployments, of course, are only preliminary; there are a plethora of ways in which maps and postcards may be employed to keep the untold histories of the city circulating in the present. The real object is to identify, document and disseminate suppressed or forgotten histories of the city. We look forward to seeing how our tools will be used towards their original intent, but more importantly, how they might grow beyond such intent, as well.
— 33 — In retrospect, I was proud of my viciousness, missed the marvelous freedom of ‘every man for himself,’ the animal sensitivity (watch the small muscles in the face), the tremendous meaning the songs on the juke box seemed to have ... Regions of the earth must be drawn by the people that live in them. WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 10
FLIRTY AND AROUSED
9. FUTURE POSTMAN
‘... the truth about architecture - architecture’s moments of truth – occurs, strictly speaking, in the future. It doesn’t exist; it appears like a ghost.’ ‘The crisis of representation is a crisis of future. It entails the capacity to imagine and to project something truly other to one’s own time and place…’ Reinhold Martin, ‘Critical of What? Towards a Utopian Realism’, in Harvard Design Magazine, Spring/Summer 2005, n. 22, p. 18-19 Detroit has seen much plan-making. Some plans, aiming to stimulate tourism or activate the city by grand sport facilities, didn’t have the intended effects. Others, operating at the small-scale of neighbourhoods in the form of urban gardens and the like, seem to be ﬂourishing. Yet, at whatever scale, most plans refer to a certain image of an American Dream for Detroit. The Future Post-Man is interested in these images. Instead of bringing messages, he collects stories from Detroiters about their dreams and hopes for the future. In so doing, he poses questions about who will design Detroit in the future and which ideas will be transformative in Detroit’s new reality.
— 34 — FUTURE POSTMAN
— 39 — I decided to formalize the end of my reading of ‘the literature’ which had piled up for over a year. I would read people not books. WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 11
11. THE WALK-IN PORTRAIT STUDIO AFFECTIONATE AND EMPATHETIC
CORINE VERMEULEN (PHOTOGRAPHY) FEMKE LUTGERINK (STORY COLLECTING)
The concept for the studio sprang from our desire to introduce ourselves to the neighborhood and get to know some of its residents. The studio was set up in a formerly foreclosed house that is currently under renovation. Over the course of ﬁve days, around 85 people had their portraits taken in exchange for a story of the neighborhood. They were solicited via ﬂyers, posters and signs, but we also did a fair amount of scouting on the streets to invite people to come in. People were invited to pick up their portraits, free of charge, a week after they were photographed. The following is a selection of portraits and stories collected during the days the studio was open.
— 40 — THE WALK-IN PORTRAIT STUDIO
I am a homemaker and I live on Klinger Street. I used to live on Moran Street, one block down, but I like Klinger much better; there is less drug trafﬁc and there aren’t so many women walking the street. I would like to think I have established a good relationship with the police; if there is trouble they always come and take people off the street if necessary. I also like it that there are different ethnic groups here, it is very diverse. But the prostitutes… they do not have to do it you know, they can go to church, learn about selfesteem and get themselves off the streets. I just lost my job and my girl broke up with me. I live with my family now. I’m applying for welfare. I just hope I do not have to go back to the streets. I moved here three weeks ago. It seems like a quiet neighborhood, maybe a bit too quiet. The people seem okay around here, except for the lady next door with the scary dog. I love Detroit; I have lived in this neighborhood my whole life. It really is a do-it-yourself place; you have to ﬁnd your own ways to entertain yourself. I am a student; I study criminal justice. I did my share of ugly things, I hung out with the thugs, but at one point I thought there must be more to life. You are the company you keep and I can teach people what I learn. I already paid my tuition for school, so why not teach other people as well?
I am a student, I want to become a registered nurse and move to California. I work at McDonald’s to make some extra money. I like it but sometimes the customers
— 41 —
AFFECTIONATE AND EMPATHETIC
are very rude. I live on Klinger Street but we are moving to a bigger house in Hamtramck. There is not much going on in this neighborhood. It is messed up because of the drug dealers. Sometimes houses are set on ﬁre. For example the two across the street here, I saw them burn down three years ago. The ﬁrst one was set on ﬁre by the renters, the other one by the owner for insurance money. The owner came forty minutes late because he had to change his clothes. There were instruments in the house, $200 a piece. It is a shame really. I do not like the gossip around here, and it seems there is only a feeling of community when something dramatic happens, like a ﬁre. I was on my way to visit my mother on Norwalk Street. I shower and eat my meals there. My street life started when I was 20 years old. I do not mind talking about it, talking makes you realize that you are who you are, and that it might be time to take action. When I was in prison in California I graduated with very good grades. I also received training to become a ﬁreﬁghter at one of the only women education centers in Porta La Cruz. I fought big bush ﬁres. Being a ﬁreﬁghter is a tough and dangerous job but it is also very rewarding. You get ‘thank you’ letters from people when you save their lives and homes. Now I am back in Detroit again. I smoke crack but it is a controlled habit, no needles, that is not my thing. I eat well and take care of myself as well as I can. I write poems and short stories. I write to not go insane, ﬁlling pages. I have done that my whole life, I leave a paper trail wherever I go.
— 42 — THE WALK-IN PORTRAIT STUDIO
I have lived in this neighborhood for about a year and one month. I would like to change the trashy environment into something beautiful. When I grow up I want to be a clothing designer or a poetry writer, or both. I already write poetry, would you like to see? I live on Moran street; I like this neighborhood. I used to live on the other side of the Davison (highway) and there were always ﬁghts there, for nothing, they try to draw you out. I practice martial arts, so I do not have much to fear, but I hate being in ﬁghts, and where I used to live I was in a lot of them. This neighborhood here is like halfway to heaven. People keep to themselves, especially the Bengalis. I like that very much. I am still in high school, I go to Cleveland Intermediate Houston, but they are closing it down. Next year I will probably go to Hamtramck High. After I graduate I want to become a photographer. I am sixty-seven years old and I am retired. I still work as a window cleaner and part-time handy man. I live on Moran Street. I have been in this neighborhood since 2001. Originally I am from Sweden; I have lived in the USA since my family came in 1953. My mother was the moving force behind our immigration. I have a lot of stories that I will account for some other time. I have lived in this neighborhood since 1989. The last ﬁfteen years it has predominantly become Bengali, I would say about 80%. That’s why some people call it Banglatown. Then there are the Arabs and of course the African Americans. We all live together in this neighborhood. But since 2007 a lot of Bengali
— 43 — moved out for safety and security reasons.
AFFECTIONATE AND EMPATHETIC
The summer here is bad because people come out and do crazy stuff. They all go wild. I have lived on Klinger Street for the last three and a half years. I moved from the West side, there was a lot of drugs and gang violence, but people were calm. There are more ‘Koshers’ here. You barely see their women. They keep to their own culture. But my daughter plays with their daughter. They garden a lot as well, but I do not have time to garden. I am a single mom. I am 32 years old and a security ofﬁcer. I live on the East side. I used to live on Klinger Street but I did not like all the drug use. You see how they act, eyes all gloomy and popping out of their head. The street I live on now is pretty cool, it is all working class and there is much less vacancy. I have been staying here for two weeks. I like the diversity in this neighborhood. When you actually open your eyes you see a lot of beautiful things. The ﬁrst day I arrived here I felt like leaving as soon as possible, but now I feel like I have to leave too soon. The neighborhood is not as tough as I thought it would be. I would like to come back and stay for a longer period, maybe a couple of months. I am ﬁfty-eight years old. I live a disciplined life. I exercise every day, I don’t smoke and only sometimes drink a beer; that’s my secret. I live on Klinger Street and I work in construction. My company specializes in chimneys, porches, steps, sidewalks, walkway bricks and blocks, footing and driveways. If
— 44 — THE WALK-IN PORTRAIT STUDIO
you need some construction done, just give me a call and I will give you the best price. I live alone with my dogs; they are Dobermans. I have them because the neighborhood used to be bad. Now there is a lot of improvement so I do not really need the dogs anymore. They are well trained and behave very well. I like it that there are many nationalities around, people with different ethnic backgrounds. It is an excellent neighborhood. It’s like a big family; people watch out for one and other, they have respect for each other. Prejudice takes a backseat and that is a good thing. I am a journalist and a teacher, I have written four books on traveling and immigration issues. I have lived in this neighborhood for thirteen years. It is mixed, diverse, multicultural and friendly. People from the East tend to be more closed; from the West they are more open and accepting. Transition issues are important to pay attention to. Every immigrant lives with it. I came to Detroit, because I already knew a lot of people here. I have lived on Lehman Street for two years. I am fourteen years old and I want to become an actress, a lawyer or a forensic scientist. I like to go to church to pray and sing; I think it is important practice if you want to become an actress. The church is my stage. I have lived on Klinger Street for eight years. I like the neighborhood but after the ﬁrst four years it got bad; violence, burnt houses. But now it is all right again. I would like to move to New York because it has a better vibe, there is always something to do and you don’t have to struggle to get work.
— 45 — We do many things long before we understand them, perhaps it is true that we always do things before we understand them. This puts a rebellious student at an enormous disadvantage since he is disruptive and angry long before he can defend himself with any positive result. WILLIAM BUNGE, THE FIRST YEARS OF THE DETROIT GEOGRAPHICAL EXPEDITION: A PERSONAL REPORT, P. 9
MIREILLE RODDIER ‘The distribution of the visible itself is part of the conﬁguration of domination and subjection. It starts when we realize that looking is also an action that conﬁrms or modiﬁes that distribution, and that ‘interpreting the world’ is already a means of transforming it, of reconﬁguring it.’ Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator The Third Landscape, deﬁned in a manifesto by gardener and activist Gilles Clément, was named with speciﬁc reference to ‘the Third Estate, not the Third World: a space expressing neither power nor submission to power.’ 1 The Third Landscape posited by Clément stands outside the productive or the sacred and, as such, is a refuge for diversity. For Clément, this was a diversity of plant species, but the analogy with the social Third Estate is seamless—it spans from the rural territories of Clément’s manifesto to the urban zones that Ignasi de Solà-Morales called Terrains Vagues.2 The Third Landscape and the Terrain Vague are commonly deﬁned as standing in the margins: the Third Landscape is made up of ‘undeﬁned and functionless spaces that are difﬁcult to name, […] situated in the margins, at the edge of the woods, along the roads and the rivers, in the forgotten corners of culture, inaccessible to the machines’. while Terrains Vagues are ‘unincorporated margins’, ‘strange places [that] exist outside the city’s effective circuits and productive structures.’3 One may be a rural version of the urban other, but the commonality between these territorial fringes lie in their evasion of potential exploitation, their resistance to convenient appropriation by the productive machine, and their position as grounds that concretize – rather than allegorically represent – the distinct values of the social classes. How does one operate in such margins without affecting their very nature as marginal or losing the promise ‘contained in the expectations of mobility, vagrant roving, free time, liberty’?4 Thus was the question that confronted the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency studio taught in the 2008-2009 winter term at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. It may be that I led ﬁfteen architecture seniors
down a disaffected dead-end. The studio, anchored in the material realities of nearby Detroit, drifted from contradictions to paradoxes. As volunteer agents of the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency, the students each chewed on the concept of ‘Unreal Estate’: is it tangible?, Does it have permanence?, Through what (un)value system is it gauged?, And what drives the ﬂuctuations of that system? If I plead irresponsibility for the misguidance of students down dark alleyways, I can’t deny the constructive value of the questions these experiences raised: how do we, as designers, extract the production of value from the production of capital? And how do we, in the face of the complete colonization of urban life by a fully commodiﬁed public realm, perform outside of market values without ignoring market realities? Could architecture for once not act as ‘an instrument of organization, of rationalization and of productive efﬁciency capable of transforming the uncivilized into the cultivated, the fallow into the productive, the void into the built’?5
EDGY AND AMBIVALENT
12. UNREAL ESTATE OF THE REALM
For me, the investigation translates at the meta-level of the academic institution: how do we not aestheticize the question? How does one conduct such a studio without affecting the nature of its dead-endness, in an era evermore dominated by the urge to problemsolve, layered with pressing urgency and a penchant for singular ﬁx-it all solutions?6 A path of eggshells traditionally called ‘site analysis’ led the students into their projects. While the mere act of photographing a terrain vague can not evade self-conscious aestheticizing, which in turn affects the photographed referent within the collective imaginary, the lesson was experienced here doubly-fold. At the individual scale, each student faced the reality that the mere act of looking at Detroit could not be done passively, illustrating Jacques Rancière’s point that interpreting the world, whether visually or otherwise, is already implicated in changing the world.7 At the collective scale of the studio, we showed that the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency could not ‘produce, collect and inventory information on the ‘unreal estate’ of Detroit’ without affecting (and irritating) its subject, and that running such a studio through the sponsorship of a large
— 46 — UNREAL ESTATE OF THE REALM
Drawing by Hattie Stroud academic institution came with a very speciﬁc set of assumed values. This was made most evident during the students’ presentation of their work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) in April. Out of the heated discussions taken outside after the end of the students’ slideshows, the underlying question of authority surfaced. Given the critical power of the gaze, who should be authorized to look? The projects produced in the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency studio at Michigan varied in medium and tone, from the utopic (Marc Maxey’s Sub_City cookbook, included in this Atlas) to the utterly dystopic—the classic proposal of pushing the logic of an existing condition through implacable rationality in order to highlight the absurdity of pragmatic extremes. This is not exactly a crowd pleaser when its target is so close to home. And none of the proposals corresponded to what our Detroit audience wanted to see come out of a school of architecture: visual material that would trigger the public imaginary towards the possibility of an other Detroit, one ﬁlled with collaged children running to public school buses, wired street furniture and outdoor café seating – real estate proposals for textbook gentriﬁcation, artists included. In this all too familiar image of urban renewal, an aestheticized terrain vague and a romanticized third landscape merge to form an urban pastoral genre, doubly sacred and productive, even possibly ennobled by its sanctity. How can we, as designers, deny such seductive images to a public who, familiar with disenfranchisement, is itself tired of standing in the forgotten corners of culture? Would many marginalized residents of the city be all too happy to ﬁnd themselves incorporated into productive structures? While the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency studio began with a set of questions informed by a discourse of institutionalized resistance, the studio was taken for a rhetorical ride when confronted with real and local paradoxes. Perhaps, as a result, many of our young architects will end up deviating in their path towards an architecture claiming ethical and political responsibility and head towards an architecture of absolute autonomy. And that may be
understandable if, as too many have already claimed, there is no escape from the reinforcement of capitalist exploitation of the commons by artistic modes of production. Yet it would be an extraordinary capitulation to such exploitation if the reason for deviation came from considering the work of the think tanks of cultural institutions as a product of the demonized exploitation machine. Ultimately, the role of architectural education should include the impartial bridging of gaps between academia, with its tendency to embrace an incessant ﬂow of potential alternatives free of the pull of material realities, and the world of ‘applied’ theories and compromises. Speculating upon what shape the city would take if it were no longer structured by free-market values may be a rhetorical exercise of little value to those whose lives are currently consumed by the de-realization of their actually all too ‘real’ estate. But, based on fundamentally ‘other’ frameworks of value, architectural thought could provide alternative ways of gauging the needs of the city. This would involve contributions not only from the academic design studio, conceived as a place of non-remunerated work, but also from voices willing to inform on alreadyexisting alternative value structures. Those latter voices are deeply safeguarded within the private realm of affected communities and are anchored in cultural and racial identities that have managed to evade exposure by expressing ‘neither power nor submission to power.’ The trust required for this divulgence to happen would need to be matched by a proof of its non-exploitation. A chicken and the egg paradox at best, a scorpion and the frog parable at worst. 1 Gilles Clément, Manifeste du Tiers-Paysage (Paris: Éditions Sujet/ Objet, 2003). 2 Ignasi de Solà-Morales, ‘Terrain Vague’ in AnyPlace, ed. by Cynthia Davidson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), pp. 118-123. 3 Ibid., p. 120. 4 Ibid. 5 Ignasi de Solà-Morales, ‘Terrain Vague’ in AnyPlace, ed. by Cynthia Davidson (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), p. 122. 6 Metropolis Magazine actually titled its 2010 Next Generation Design Competition: ‘One Design Fix for the Future.’ 7 Jacques Rancière, ‘The Emancipated Spectator,’ Art Forum (March 2007), p. 277.
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CONFIDENT AND ACCESSIBLE
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