Mark Binelli’s book ‘The Last Days of Detroit’ is an engagingly detailed portrayal of a conflicted city. Crime, arson, desperation and extreme poverty mix with art, glimmers of hope, and regeneration schemes.
Chapter by chapter, Binelli guides us through each of these elements aided both by the city’s history and his own. Having grown up in Detroit, his views are not without a hint of bias (or heightened insight depending on which specific point in the book we’re referring to) and rarely without a peppering of ironic wittiness.
Having experienced the boom and subsequent bust of the auto industry, Detroit is city that can’t help but look back with nostalgia at what it once was: A thriving symbol of the American Dream. Now, derelict, empty and lacking even basic amenities those left behind face a daily struggle against crime and poverty. ‘The Last Days of Detroit’ tries to make sense of how it all came to be and, with significantly less certainty, what Detroit will become.
For a while now journalists and photographers have shared an almost perverse interest in the strangely beautiful dilapidation of Detroit’s houses, schools and theatres.
It’s a phenomenon that has earnt itself the name ‘ruin-porn’ (Yves Merchand and Romain Meffre produced an entire photo-book on the subject entitled ‘The Ruins of Detroit’ in 2010.) But this interest is now going one step further with artists snapping up cheap houses and warehouse spaces and converting them into studios. Could this be the beginning of a trendy, arty new Detroit?
‘The Last Days of Detroit.’ was released in the UK on the 10th January 2013.
Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Image courtesy of Random House.