Nestor Rychtyckyj'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
Dec 31, 2012

really liked it
Read from December 31, 2012 to January 13, 2013

As somebody who's spent most of my life in Detroit (actually Hamtramck, Detroit & now Warren) this book was fascinating to read. Every chapter brought out a range of different emotions and I would deliberitely put the book down and go over everything again in my head before moving on. The author is a native Detroiter (now living in NYC) who moved back into the city (Eastern Market area) and spent a year trying to understand how the city came to be in ths state that it is and more importantly - can it recover and become viable again? Everything (and more) that you expect is covered here (urban farming, politics, crime, racism, urban exploring, near-collapse and rebirth of the auto industry) and all of these themes relate to what the people of Detroit believe can happen. Detroit's history and past are covered well; Mark Binelli is a fine writer and has a way to bring out the emotions in a variety of settings. His interactions and stories about the people who are living in the city make the book especcially relevant; from urban farmers to firefighters in Highland Park, families of both criminals and victims make the story real. Detroit is not just a collection of old buildings to be explored by young hipsters from Europe- it's a story of people who are living in a city with terrible services, high crime and politicians who seem to make everything worse. This is a definie "must read" for anybody that cares about the city and it's people.
So why did I give this only 4 stars? My primary complaint is that Mark Bineelli cannot hide his personal biases and feelings in the book. The American auto industry is roundly criticized - for GM and Chrysler going bankrupt and requiring a bailout and then again because the Big Three make a profit by selling trucks and SUVs. Unforunately, customers like to buy these vehicls and the resurgance of the auto industry has probably helped the city more than all of the well-meaning urban farmers and artists. Of course, I am biased too since I work in the auto industry, but I guess that I expected a more reasoned discussion. All big companies are not necessarily evil, but I get the impression that is exactly what he feels.
In a way certain subjects (autos, politics) do polarize the community and everybody will read their own feelings into the book. The revitatlization of Midtown & Corktown by young (mostly white) nre residents is both lauded and then criticized by some long-time residents who aren't thrilled with their presence. There is no easy answer to how racism continues to impact nearly every facet of life in the area and this is certainly discussed in the book.
Mark Binelli ends his book on an optimistic note - things are getting better and Detroit does have a future, but it may take years before the city becomes a viable functioning entity where residents don't have to fear being a victim of crime. He takes on a difficult topic and gives a picture of a city that even those of us living here didn't quite understand and appreciate.
This is definitely worthwhile to read!
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