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Detroit City Is the Place to Be

Mark Binelli offers a sharp, sad, insightful look at Detroit – a city so lost that it has made failure chic.

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Detroit City Is the Place to Be
By Mark Binelli
Metropolitan Books
336 pp.

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Mark Binelli has no solution for Detroit. Yet, in this sharply observed, insightful work of love and fury, he suggests that the story of his hometown has lessons for the rest of us. These lessons are particularly salient when some cities are sputtering back to life, while others are considering bulldozing the shells of former neighborhoods. The federal government has little if any urban policy, let alone funds to help, and state government – in this case, Michigan’s – can take over city management with mixed, sometimes punitive results.

Detroit used to be flush with people, money, power and drive; now, much of it is a ghost town. Walk out of the Renaissance Center – that awkward, steroidal blend of hotel and auto company headquarters – down Jefferson Avenue, then along Woodward Avenue to Campus Martius and Cadillac Square, and what hits you is the grandeur of the giant office buildings, many of them closed. The scale is gigantic, the roads built for traffic that no longer exists. It’s too easy to get around.

Subtitled “The Afterlife of an American Metropolis,” Binelli’s book offers broad coverage, touching on many facets of the city's current state: union shrinkage, the rescue of the auto industry, urban farming, the power of “ruin porn” to draw tourists to dead industrial buildings gone surreal, brutal crime, and political corruption so profound it’s cartoonish. Detroit, he suggests, has made failure chic.

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