I first became obsessed with urban decay (no, not the eyeshadow) and its progeny, the Urban Exploration movement, when I was in college and read too much philosophy. While it’s unhealthy to read Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord exclusively and in tandem, it plunged me into a lot of weird internet journeys during my many sleepless nights; this is when I found the website Forgotten Detroit.
I am rooted in Detroit, Michigan on my mother’s side of the family. There my grandparents met and fell in love while attending Thomas M. Cooley High School, and my Grandmother never understood why I found it so entertaining to hear her speak of 8 Mile (thanks, Eminen). Built in 1928, Cooley High was closed in 2010 and now sits abandoned, a hulking monument to days when Detroit was healthy and children were everywhere. As with all forgotten things, Cooley High is now in danger of demolition.
How does this happen? How can cities of this size become spectral and how can we, as conscious citizens, raze the physical manifestations of our history when they become too difficult to maintain? I understand the discourse fed by explanations of socio-political migrations, demography and the export of industry to developing countries. I get it: Detroit has been left without a purpose, and therefore was left by its people. Buildings need a use, and Detroit has not the population to use them. This, for lack of a better sequence of words, makes me sad. Sad for my own family history that is disappearing and sad for future generations who won’t be able to understand our nation’s history by standing inside of it, by feeling granite with their hands, seeing stairwells with their eyes and KNOWING that architects are dreamers because they build something out of nothing, and dreamers built this country.
In short, I am obsessed with Detroit: what it represents and what still exists to be saved. I’ve even (half-jokingly) asked my Fella if he’d relocate from San Francisco to the Motor City. So far, he’s nonplussed and I can’t say as I blame him; this is my calling, not his. No, I don’t have any immediate plans to leave an ideal climate for one that’s depressed and trying to find its relevance in a century that has moved away from its strengths. But the thought is germinating, I’m open to persuasion, and the video featured below encapsulates, in a very beautiful way, my connection to the plight of this urban belle.