Reclaiming Detroit

Detroit is a city with a story to tell.

A city with a population that increased by six times then contracted by more than half in the space of 100 years. From 285,000 in 1910 to 1.85 million in 1950 to 713,000 in 2010. But while the population of a city can be relatively elastic, it’s infrastructure cannot. Detroit now has some 70,000 abandoned buildings, and a staggering 31,000 empty homes.

The people who didn’t or couldn’t leave have been left living in a ghost town. 

Its a story that is told beautifully and poignantly by these pictures from DetroitUrbex of Class Technical High School, demolished in 2011. With old pictures of former students overlayed on top of new photos of the exact same spots the originals were taken, these haunting collages are like living memories; and a painful reminder of how far Detroit has fallen.

Another photographer who cuts a fascinating insight into Detroit is Dave Jordano, who uses his work to try and remind people that the focus shouldn’t be “about what’s been destroyed, but… what’s been left behind and those who are coping with it”.

In the wake of the city’s declared bankruptcy last year it could have been easy to think that there was just no hope for the city. But among the ruins of America’s Motor City, some incredible things are starting to happen.

 TechTown is a Detroit based business incubator which supports businesses, and connects partners to those who need support. Aiming to act as Detroit’s ‘growth centre’, TechTown has already opened an amazing new hotdesking space for local entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, planning and design firm Sasaki Associates is master-planning the wider tech town district, complete with an energy testing site, an outdoor climbing wall and “collaboration cubes”.

You could also do some creative writing in Detroit’s container story box, or get on board with the urban growing revolution spear-headed by Keep Growing Detroit which supports more than 1,400 gardens, many of which are community projects.

Not a bad haul for a city which, at first glance, seems so beyond the pale. Perhaps Detroit can write itself a new story: one of transformation and vitality, not ruin and despair. We don’t know about you, but we’ll be watching Detroit with interest over the next few years…

To learn more about the story of Detroit check out the feature length documentary, Requiem for Detroit – watch the first five minutes on Vimeo.

For more haunting pictures see the full ‘Then and Now’ collection from DetroitUrbex.


DetroiturbexDetroitUrbex is a group of urbexer’s, or ‘urban explorers’, who are committed to exploring and understanding the city of Detroit.

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