Tag Archives: popular imagination

Please stop writing obits for living cities.

Lately I’ve become interested in how urban decline is represented in popular media. Here’s a quizzical example: Can you name the US cities that have less than two-thirds their peak population? (Sporcle)

People love to talk about, write about, and make art about Detroit—myself included, right—and usually popular representations of decline make it into a sad joke or something starkly beautiful. It’s a graveyard, it’s a dead zone, it’s empty; at best it’s a war. It’s becoming quite the schtick. But 900,000 people still live in Detroit, and yet the closest thing you get to an insider’s perspective in much of this is some artist or academic who moved away when he was 17 coming back to Flint to document how it’s fallen apart since he left. I also love how in the first five minutes of the documentary embedded below, the Detroiters interviewed are all white men in their 50s or 60s. Please. Last time I checked, Detroit was 82 percent black, 53 percent female, and 56 percent under 35.

Does anybody know of insider stories of decline? Grown in Detroit, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, comes close. And what characterizes an insider perspective? Realism instead of drama, a very small amount of hope and remnants of pride, evidence of life still being lived?

I gave a guy from NYC a ride to the airport a few weeks ago and he asked if we could drive around the city to see the carnage for a while first. I drove him straight to the airport. I don’t know where the Sporcle quiz falls in this, but give it a try. Oh, and Mr. New York: your state has more cities on this list than mine.