Michelle'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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Nov 27, 2012

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bookshelves: 2012, non-fiction
Read from November 27 to 30, 2012

Detroit as a city fascinates me and I’ve never fully understood why. I’ve not been to Detroit, I’m not involved in the auto industry, or smoking crack, or setting fires to my hometown, or anything else you might relate to the place. The author explained it to me in the introduction. At one time Detroit was the equivalent of Silicon Valley. As someone who works in this software industry and in private equity, that comparison really stunned me. It’s something I knew inherently but I never related the two. Detroit used to represent innovation. Crazy, but true.

Journalistic assessment of this fallen city is a popular endeavor (indeed it’s an actual thriving industry except when there’s a grisly murder/dismemberment case and not ONE journalist is covering the trial) but I enjoyed this book despite Detroit’s whipping post status. The author is Detroit born and bred and he has a palpable love for the crumbling city.

A few things really stood out to me, including things I already knew such as the 97% decline in property values, the 75% decline in population, etc. From a Detroit-based urban planner: “I teach land and use planning and there’s nothing in there about downsizing.” Fascinating, simply fascinating. Because that’s part of urban planning, isn’t it? Plans don’t just go up, sometimes they go down. It’s like running a company, finding it losing revenue and employees and being like, well shit, I haven’t the faintest. I thought we’d only ever grow! Of course this speaks to a bigger political/governmental problem not strictly applicable to Detroit.

Also, the fires. So you can buy a house for $100 and insure it for $80k. No one has the money or time or wherewithal to investigate arsons (because there are too damned many fires). So why not set your house on fire? It actually makes a load of sense. What a moneymaker.

The author leaves with hope, mostly vague, but with some basis. He does ask, quite rightly, “Would fixing the very real problems faced by Detroiters…mean inevitably robbing Detroit of some part of its essential Detroitness?” Indeed. Side note: I didn’t know that the city had become a tourist destination for foreigners. He runs into tourists from all over the globe, including upscale families from Paris. It’s apparently analogous to visiting the ruins of the coliseum in Rome. People from Paris are paying money to vacation in Detroit! This is unbelievable.

This book is a good blend of facts and human interest. It is narrative non-fiction but really more heavily weighted toward non-fiction. I felt the narrative was a bit disjointed and at times the “story” was altogether lost. The political crap got old at times, as political crap does.

Speaking of political crap, if you want to see a video that was once hopeful and now completely ironic check out this one for Detroit’s bid for the 1968 Olympics:


The Most Cosmopolitan City in the Midwest! More sparkling pure water than anywhere in the world!

All in an interesting read.
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