Detroit's legendary urban decay...coming to a theatre near you

Filmmakers see Detroit as test case for ideas on urban revival

Studying Detroit and its problems appears to be a growth industry.

This spring and summer, the British Broadcasting Corp. and the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service were filming documentaries about the plight of Detroit and the city’s hopes for a revival. A gaggle of other documentarians and journalists were doing the same.

Local experts say Detroit has achieved something unique. It has become the test case for all sorts of theories on urban decay and all sorts of promising ideas about reviving shrinking cities.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Sue Mosey, president of the University Cultural Center Association, who has been interviewed recently by two separate PBS crews and an Austrian journalist writing about Detroit.

“All of us have been inundated with all of these people who somehow think that because we’re so bottomed out and so weak-market, that this is this incredible opportunity,” Mosey said.

Robin Boyle, a professor of urban planning at Wayne State University who has been interviewed by numerous visitors, echoed that sentiment.

“They realize that there is an interesting story to tell, that has real characters, but even more, they discover a place that is simply not like everywhere else,” he said.

Projects in the works
In addition to the BBC and PBS documentaries, Detroit is the focus of several other projects, among them:

A young French independent filmmaker, Florent Tillon, shot footage around downtown last week for his documentary about Detroiters coping with unprecedented change.

San Diego State film student Amy Sheppell captured scenes at the Earthworks Urban Farm on Detroit’s east side on a Saturday in late June, part of a feature she’s shooting on urban agriculture.

Heike Warmuth, the U.S. correspondent for the Austrian newspaper Der Kurier, was in town in early June conducting interviews for a feature story on the city.

These and other filmmakers and journalists were drawn not by Michigan’s lucrative film tax credit, which doesn’t apply to the work they do, but by the urgency of Detroit itself, said Tillon.

Tillon is raising about $40,000 to spend on his film, which he hopes to market through a French production company. He expects to make little, if any, profit. “I don’t think about money,” he said.

Why Detroit?

George Hencken, a producer for BBC, said her documentary focuses on the auto industry and its relationship to Detroit and its people. The film is to run on the BBC in November.

“Why Detroit? Because the influence of Detroit, both musically and through the cars that still symbolize the American dream, has reached throughout the world,” she said. “And now as the city struggles with a post-industrial, post-urban future, it could be a model for issues that will affect urban centers across the globe.”

Sheppell found that Detroit’s growing number of community gardens offered the most material for her feature on urban farming.

“I filmed in San Diego, New York and here to compare what urban agriculture could mean to each community,” she said. “So far, it seems that in Detroit, it could really mean the most to this city, providing local food for its citizens and hopefully providing more of a community feeling and more of an economy.”

Detroit’s status as the nation’s poster child of urban decay no doubt draws many filmmakers, said George Steinmetz, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan who released his own film about Detroit’s past a few years ago.

Steinmetz said ruins such as the Michigan Central Station fascinate people on a deeply psychological level. That helps explain this year’s focus on Detroit. The city offers many different meanings.

“Ruins,” he said, “become a metaphor for the kind of struggle between life and death.”

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER: 313-222-5173 or

As a avid fan of architecture and all things urban, I don’t think that there is a city on earth that fascinates me more that Detroit. I’m sure that there are nice areas in the city but it’s decline over the past 50 years is amazing. It has given the US (and the world) so much: Motown, cars, house music. But it’s sad and yet amazing on how bad it looks.


That last one is downright terrifying. I really need to see this city for myself.

After growing up there, I have very strong feelings about Detroit. I think it is best described as an overwhelming desire to never fucking go back to Detroit. In 92 my family left, and I’ve only been back 1 time since then.

There is only [media=youtube]clqK5OC3BWE"[/media] to fix Detroit.

my mom’s parents finally moved out of detroit in '92, but only after having 2 of their sons (my uncles) get killed. detroit ain’t no joke for real…if i had $10K lying around i’d def cop some land there.

I’m also a big fan of urban decay and modern ruins, even though it’s not fun to see Detroit in the state it’s in. Some other famous abandoned cities around the world

Id rather see a movie about Cleveland:



Dope site Taito.

Here is one for Detroit.

Nice site Taito. You always bring the goods.

Haha. Oh that’s good. 2nd video is right. It’s still not Detroit. Cleveland looks so clean and I didn’t see any bums sleeping on everything and anything.

As a resident of Detroit for 7 years of my life and a resident of the burbs of Detroit, I’ve come to the conclusion that white people need to come back to save the city. :-/ Uncle Ruckus aint’ all wrong.

And it’s interesting to see how non-Detroiters feel about Detroit. Like I’ve been living with a slowly declining metropolis for all of my 23 years and while I’m not totally num to the decay I’ve gotten used to it’s sights. I mean just last winter we had the dead dude frozen at the bottom of an elevator shaft. Something is always fucking burning. That poor train station. It stands so alone out there. Looking like a dying animal that no one wants to put down. Most of the city government’s officials are so trailblazing corrupt it’s’ sick. Detroit public schools are toast. I feel bad for the family I do still have in the city. Luckily they are all alive and not stupid so that’s good. Bums are everywhere. Trash is everywhere. 8 mile might as well be an invisible wall with how dramatic the contrast is between Detroit and the suburbs that border that road. Same with the transition of Woodward over 8 mile.

Once you are free of the city limits though you will run into all these nice suburbs. Southfield, Farmington Hills, Royal Oak, Sterling Heights, Birmingham, Troy, etc. All these folks out here almost don’t give a damn. We talk the same story every night from the comfort of our clean cut suburban homes.'Man Detroit is so bad. I wish it were this or that. I’d live there but. Omg… Detroit shiver"

It’ll take a lot of time, money, and effort to change this city. More ingenuity then some of you can imagine.

PS. By all means come visit Detroit and it’s surrounding environs guys. You won’t get shot. We aren’t dicks and clearly aren’t stuck up lol. We will feed you some fine cuisine. Zulu since you like house music you should come during the Movement Festival. When you aren’t dancing during the day you can take a tour of the city and take all the pictures and notes about our architecture that you want. Be amazed by the decay surrounded by attempts at life surrounded by decay.

If yall got any random questions go ahead and ask.

Interesting to hear your opinion. For some reason, your post reminds me of grub in Greektown and my Dad’s old bar on 8mile and Livernois.

It’s real truth that even people who drive into downtown every day ignore the empty buildings, homeless people, and horrible bullshit government. When we moved into Troy when I was 10 it was like a different universe, but when you’re a kid you can’t appreciate it like you can when you grow up. My cousin is still one of those people, drives in from the burbs every day to work at the big bank branch.

What Detroit needs is the same thing any broke ass city needs, people to invest money into it that creates jobs and demand for businesses and living space in the city. It’s going to take a long long time for it to turn around, and some politicians who are less interested in crack and more interested in education and development that creates jobs.

That was fucking awesome!:rofl::lovin:

cool thread, cool links.

detroit has become interesting to me as of late. mostly because of the music…so many interesting artists from there, you kinda wonder how the city affects the people. detroit is glamorized in the dance music scene, but in reality i think a lot of the inspiration comes from the pain and destitute nature of the place, and the music comes as a form of escapism.

someone needs to throw detroit a fuckin bone, the home of detroit techno deserves much more than this

first thing I thought of.

Man, I remember when I moved here to Richmond, it was amazing to see what people’s responses were when I told them, I was from Detroit. Of course being a musician as well, people definitely do think that having musical talent and being from Detroit is something major. That is, until as of recently. I used to get mad people asking me why I moved from such an elaborate metropolis that they thought Detroit was to Richmond, VA. Now in light of what’s become of Detroit, when I meet someone who asks me where I’m from, the first thing they say is, “Man, it’s sad what’s going on up there.” It’s as if the city was in the dumps for 40 years and never had prosperous moments.

Edit: I try to visit Detroit once a year to see my family. The sightseeing is tough when you have to figure out random places to take your wife and you already know there’s not much to do lol.

Furry, I’ll be up there for Christmas this year.

Nice link. The Chernobyl pictures remind me of CoD 4, especially the Ferris wheel.

out of curiosity, does detroit have a subway system? i was under the impression that it was all streets and highways?

anyway, is detroit now as bad as ny was from the 70’s-1995ish? as far as the decay…? it was pretty bad…at the same time, at least we had character then.

i’m at work so i can’t look at the youtube clips but i will look at the other sites…

just taking a random look at the pics and no, it doesn’t look as bad as ny was back in the day.
detroit can come back from this. i don’t know what can be done but it can come back.

That was neat.

Detroit is the worst in the country when it comes to decay.

NYC was never this bad. That city still had it’s people.

I heard that the city lied about it’s murder rate some how so we could actually be number one.

Oh and if you guys want me to send you free copies of Real Detroit and Metrotimes PM your address and I’ll send them out. A tip would be nice too.

i don’t want to get into a “whose urban decay is/was worse,” but NYC’s urban decay was definitely worse than anything i’ve seen in those pics.

someone provide a link to NYC’s urban decay. it was extraordinary. buildings looked bombed out, homelessness everywhere, drug dealers at war, everyone is aware of the graffiti problem, etc. etc. violence was real high.
syringes and nickel bags littered gutters…you could get robbed for your sneakers, clothing, etc.

ppl was getting randomly shot left and right.

not saying detroit isn’t bad but there’s no way it was as bad as nyc used to be. trash was everywhere…had to step over homeless ppl. it stunk. etc. etc. i could go on for days about how it used to be.

i believe it. NYC lies about its murder rate now (which is nowhere near as high as it used to be, but lying is lying and bad regardless). lol @ it backfiring on bloomberg. fk that nigga, while i’m at it.


If I visited the states I would deffo hit detroit and get messed up for a few days. Kind of place I could see myself squatting for a month or two, getting some girl pregnant then tagging out.

Also I am seeriously considering repopulating that island off of Nagasaki with an intrepid team of hunter gatherers building a utopia of arcades and processed food. Apply via PM, must bring own weapons, cannot guarantee safety etc.