If you were lucky, you caught Requiem for Detroit on ABC2 last Thursday.  It was a stunning documentary that looks at the demise of a once thriving, major American city to a husk of its former self. Buildings are abandoned, collapsing in to themselves and slowly are being returned to the earth with plants growing up amongst the ruins. The population has shrunk to less than half of its former size.

Coming from a country with a housing shortage, it is bizarre to see hundreds of abandoned houses- and there are many thousands of abandoned houses across the US as a result of people defaulting on their home loans during the GFC. And they don’t just sit there neatly with the windows boarded up quietly waiting for the next tenant: copper pipes are stripped, doors and roof tiles are taken, vandals trash them and they are set alight.

Detroit has been rocked by a number of events from race riots in the late 60s, with heavy-handed police tactics; the surge in fuel prices in the 70s; the arrival of crack cocaine in the 80s and then the GFC in the 00s.

What struck me most about this documentary, is that it seemed to be a symbol for the collapse of Western civilisation if we don’t heed the signs. It seems we are on a tipping point in relation to the environment, water and population and we can dither & choose to ignore it, or we can take on the challenges and see if we can make a difference.

Interestingly, in Detroit, some of the most interesting projects have come from individuals and community groups, rather than the government. In 1986, Tyree Guyton, started The Heidelberg Project and turned an abandoned suburb into an outdoor artwork.

Goodwill Industries has established the Goodwill Deconstruction Project which involves providing training for former prisoners and recycling materials from abandoned houses and then pulling them down. Some of the land is now referred to as urban prairie.

Speaking of doing something positive, don’t forget to bring your unwanted shoes to uni this week for recycling as part of the In Your Shoes program. The collection bin will be on the South Lawn from 12-2 from the 11th to the 15th of October. De-clutter your wardrobe, feel good about yourself & improve someone else’s life to boot.

*Requiem for Detroit will be available on iView until Saturday, 16/10/10


About Tanya

Tanya, MA Art Curatorship, Melbourne Uni
This entry was posted in art, life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Collapse?

  1. lyndal85 says:

    Hi Tanya,
    Thanks for the link to iview and the very interesting topic,
    I studied town planning briefly and Detroit was used as an example of basically what not to do (alongside famous LA)!!
    It’s part of a much more widespread problem in the US where suburban estates are supposed to be perfect and the (beautiful) older inner city homes are considered unliveable, in stark contrast to our love of renovation here in Australia. Sadly there is also a racial aspect to this problem in the States, which I guess this doco might have touched upon.
    Also worrying is the fact that Melbourne is still following some of the town planning principles which came out of the states post WW2 despite evidence they are unsustainable. Too many greenfield estates and a reliance on highways and cars will get us nowhere. See the age online today:

    • It’s unbelievable how in Australia we (well politicians in particular) love to adopt the failed policies/practices of the US, Britain etc. At least we love our inner city restorations- sometimes to the point where I’m not even sure it’s the same house once it’s been re-stumped, re-plastered, weatherboards & roof replaced! I think the racial issue is an important one- gated communities seem to be common in the US – presumably a way to keep the riff-raff out…

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