DAY 1 - WELCOME TO DETROIT
Considering how vacant Detroit is, there’s a lot going on the night I arrive. 1. Ballots are being counted in a mayoral primary race where a write-in candidate will get over 30% of the vote, a first for the state of Michigan. 2. Hollywood director Michael Bay is downtown shooting the fourth installment of the
Transformers: Age of Extinction
. 3. Hip-hop icon Jay-Z and pop superstar Justin Timberlake are rocking a sold-out crowd at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions football team. 4. The Detroit Tigers baseball team are on their way to a tenth straight win. Technically, the Tigers game is in Ohio against their rival Cleveland Indians, but I'm guessing a good chunk of Detroiters are watching and listening at home. Anything to distract them from the real headline news, which no one seems to want to discuss; the fact that Detroit is filing for bankruptcy. It’s the largest municipal case in American history, ever.
But this is not news to anyone in Detroit. For years the city has been downsizing, turning off street lights, getting rid of bus lines and shrinking the pensions of their former employees. Declaring bankruptcy is the last resort. Mayor Dave Bing proposed consolidating the city into a few dense areas and turning the vacant lots into large-scale urban farming.
“What the fuck is all these damn gardens?” asks a Detroiter sitting on his porch with a few friends in a scene from the 2012 documentary
“That’s some bullshit. You gonna turn Detroit into a farm now?”
As my train snakes into the city’s west side the line between developed property and nature begins to blur. Sure enough, there are entire city blocks with a single house left standing. Sidewalks are covered in cracks and grass. Abandoned homes outnumber the occupied. In the courtyard of a closed school a disheveled middle-aged White man stands next to an art installation, waving at the train. Towering above broken buildings, a billboard with an attractive brunette promotes the health benefits of veganism. This is Detroit.