Chad Post's Reviews > Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

Detroit City Is the Place to Be by Mark Binelli
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's review
Jul 19, 2012

it was amazing
Read from July 19 to August 19, 2012

This book is as awesome as I expected it would be. Before saying anything more, I should admit upfront that I'm friends with Mark Binelli and was working at Dalkey Archive when Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! came out. (Another excellent book that you should read.) I've also heard Mark talk about this book for the past few years, and some fo the stories he's told me over drinks show up in here. (The gun-toting priest story and its gun training follow-up is a personal favorite.)

In listening to Mark talk about this book as it was coming together, it was clear that the most difficult aspect of writing about Detroit is that there's simply too much material. The situation in Detroit is as insane as any outsider who's read a newspaper in the last decade might assume: there's something like 47 square miles of abandoned space, fires seem to have always been raging in Detroit and still do, crime isn't a "problem" it's a way of life, the city's financial situation is totally busted, and the last mayor--initially painted as Detroit's Great Hope--was busted in a lurid sexting scandal that blossomed into a Chicago-sized amount of corruption and bad things. Not to mention the abandoned buildings . . .

Which brings up an interesting point. To write this, Mark went back and lived in Detroit so that he could focus not just on the unbelievable goings-on, but also on the people who are now living in Detroit trying to make a go of it. So rather than just recap the decline of the city (which parallels the auto industry implosion to a point), Mark looks at the current situation and all of the forces that are trying to figure out what to do with this massive post-industrial space. In so doing, he weaves together his own personal relationship with the city (he grew up in St. Clair Shores--one of the original suburbs) with more journalistic bits about various aspects of life in Detroit (being a firefighter, the epically failing public schools). In this way he can move from the auto industry's impact to urban farming to his own mixed feelings about ruin porn and the invasion of the hipster class.

It's a fascinating book, not just because Detroit is a fascinating city, but because of the way Mark writes and writes about a city. This isn't a linear explanation of how Detroit got to where it is, or a roadmap for what the future can hold for these rust belt metropolises, or a series of personal anecdotes--it's those things and so much more. Mainly, it's one of the most interesting depictions of a "city" that I've ever read.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I love love love the Dalkey Archive.

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