I've only been to Detroit once, in 2006, on a story extolling the virtues of the young entrepreneurial forward-thinking hip-hop mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. I've lived in a fair number of rough urban environs, but I was stunned as we drove around downtown and he pointed to building-after-building that had been abandoned since his childhood. (For example, the Packard plant above, which was shuttered in 1958.) This giant hulking man, once renowned for his sartorial styles and 100-watt smile, seemed almost despondent at the state of the Motor City.
Last week, Kilpatrick was found guilty of multiple counts of racketeering and extortion. And so it goes...
It's a shame that we, yes "We, the People," have allowed a great American city to rot. Here's a short list of things Detroit has given us: The Mustang, MC5, Gordie Howe, Marvin Gaye, Barry Sanders, Aretha Franklin, the Chevy Corvette, Eminem, Iggy Pop, Roger Corman, Lily Tomlin, Bob Seger, Stevie Wonder, Joe Dumars, Jack White, Jeffrey Eugenides (his Detroit-based Middlesex is a must-read), and everyone's favorite alcoholic Twitter fanatic, Karl Welzein.
Another native is Charlie LeDuff, a former Times writer whose Work and Other Sins is a fine collection of working-class barstool-sitting pre-and-post-9/11 NYC heroes. He returned home and chronicled the despair in Detroit: An American Autopsy. I reviewed it for Biographile and offered up a selection of other important books from cities on the brink of collapse.