If Detroit was getting a dollar every time somebody posted a spectacular photograph of its abandoned buildings on the internet, maybe they wouldn’t be filing for bankruptcy.
Blame it on the photographers or the lure of disaster tourism, but eerie images of Detroit’s spectacular downfall (documented by the likes of the French duo Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre) combined with cheap rent has attracted a new breed of creative types to Detroit. Artists, musicians and other creative professionals struggling to make ends meet in more functioning US cities have moved to Detroit and acquired homes, mounted businesses and so on. Clearly it hasn’t been enough to stave of financial disaster for the city – a few hipsters cannot save a city’s pension fund – and it’s not clear to what extent ordinary folks in Detroit are reaping much in the way of benefit from this new influx. However, revitalisation has made the city a more desirable destination for visitors who bring much-needed tourism dollars. Here’s a few ideas where to stay if you happen to be in town.
Super Cheap: We first wrote about Detroit when the Detroit Hostel opened in 2010 and while it’s not the kind of hotel we would usually feature, we thought it was worth a story given it was the first hotel to open there in the last 15 years! The Detroit Hostel is a not-for-profit project by local residents that aims to attract visitors to this declining city. It was the brain-child of the aptly named Emily Doerr, a then 25-year-old, who got the idea after hosting about 100 guests at her condo through the Couch Surfing site. Her dream was to bring visitors to Detroit, put them in touch with local and creative businesses and help revitalise the city. (Next step, the world.)
To book a bed at Emily’s venture contact the Detroit Hostel. Volunteers have donated and decorated the building and while it’s not flash, the result is a homely, personal and reasonably priced hostel (bunks US$27; doubles $52) where your hosts are 100% enthusiastic to hook you up with the best the city has to offer, including local volunteer ‘Ambassadors’. You might consider timing you visit to coincide with veteran techno event, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, held on Memorial Day Weekend in May.
Super Cool: Any city would be proud to host the wonderful Honor & Folly which is rented on airbnb by Meghan from the Designtripper blog. This cosy one or two bedroom apartment in happening Corktown is decorated with goods made by Detroit and Midwest-based designers and artisans—much of which is also for sale. Perfect for creatively-minded visitors… Other interesting airbnb options include the Corktown Loft, the seriously showy Condo Lofts, and a small arty Midtown studio near the arts precinct in a building that hosts a number of the city’s best restaurants – rented with or without cat!
If you’re in town for the architecture, you could consider splashing out and stay at the iconic Palmer House in Ann Arbor. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright the house is a reminder of the kind of cash that used to be splashed around Detroit, it is now available to rent here for the first time! Its interior is also fitted with Wright-designed furniture and built-in cabinetry and is a perfect example of so-called American organic architecture.
Super Flash: the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel recently spent $200 million on a spruce up in an attempt to return it the hotel its former glory. While it hasn’t entirely escaped a corporate vibe, it retains some lovely architectural features and offers a chance to experience old-style Detroit.
With so many interesting accommodation ventures, maybe Detroit is about to make a come-back? (Fingers crossed.)
To find our ‘What’s on’ during your stay you could check out the Positive Detroit blog by young local writer who’s also committed to looking on the bright side. (Go Detroit!) For art happenings and 3rd Thursday late night openings see Art Detroit Now.
Photography: Since it’s hey-day the population of Detroit has fallen from around two million to 700, 000, this adds up to a lot of vacant property. The Ruins of Detroit by French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre documents the dramatic decline of this major American city (pictured top). Their beautiful, eerie images portray abandoned factory plants, public buildings, once-grand theatres and even libraries that have been abandoned, seemingly in haste. Sadly this is not the result of Chernobyl-style nuclear accident but what happens when an economy collapses and criminal neglect ensues.
Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City’s Majestic Ruins written by Dan Austin with photographs by Sean Doerr (Ed – more Do-ers!) documents the city’s abandoned buildings while celebrating their architecture and the people who lived and worked in them. The 100 Abandoned Houses project is the work of Denver-based photographer Kevin Bauman who started out by documenting vacant mansions in the historic Brush Park area, see his site for the whole series. On a rather different note, we like the latest work of Detroit-based photographer and designer Chris Arace who creates beautiful and uplifting portraits of everyday Detroiters.
Art Prank: Visitors heading to Detroit might also be interested in the DDD (Detroit Disney Demolition) video now called Object Orange which was featured by our friends at GOOD a few years ago. Back in 2006/07 four Detroit artists were drawing attention to the increasing number of abandoned houses by covering them in buckets of “Tiggerific” Orange paint – a blinding color from the Mickey Mouse series, easily purchased from Home Depot. Part artistic endeavour, part social crusade, the project triggered a debate and raised interesting questions, especially when most of the 16 houses painted orange were immediately demolished by the City. The anonymous crew asked: What’s the bigger crime? Letting entire neighbourhood fall apart or turning them into art?
Advance Reading: The Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is primarily set in Detroit, it follows the exploits of Greek immigrants that rise and fall in tune with the social and economic evolution of the city, taking in the migrant worker’s life at the Ford Factory as well as the race riots of 1967.
Watch: Get a taste of Detroit on the big screen – our picks include Malik Bendjelloul’s amazing documentary Searching for Sugar Man (set between Detroit and South Africa), Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, 8 Mile starring rapper Eminem and the recent independent documentary Detropia directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.
Real Scenes: Detroit
Detroit may be known for the car industry, but it’s also the birth place of techno. Resident Advisor created this neat mini-doc about Detroit’s electronic music scene.