The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit

Detroit: a city seemingly so deep in decline that, to some, it is scarcely recognizable as a city at all. And so, to most observers, and more than a few residents, what’s there in Detroit is what’s no longer there. Theirs is a city characterized by loss: of population, property values, jobs, infrastructure, investment, security, urbanity itself. What results is vacancy, absence, emptiness, catastrophe and ruin. These are conditions of the “shrinking city,” a city that by now seems so apparent in Detroit as to prompt not verification but measurement, not questions but responses, not doubts but solutions. What corrective responses to shrinkage reciprocally preempt, however, are the possibilities and potentials that decline brings — the ways in which the shrinking city is also an incredible city, saturated with urban opportunities that are precluded or even unthinkable in cities that function according to plan. Taking advantage of these opportunities requires us to consider the shrinking city not so much as a problem to solve but rather as a prompt to new understandings of the city’s spatial and cultural possibilities. What if Detroit has lost population, jobs, infrastructure, investment, and all else that the conventional narratives point to — and yet, precisely as a result of those losses, has gained opportunities to understand and engage novel urban conditions? What if Detroit has not only fallen apart, emptied out, disappeared and/or shrunk, but has also transformed, becoming a new sort of urban formation that only appears depleted, voided or negated through the lenses of conventional architecture and urbanism?

The Design Observer Group

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