Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Gentler Side of Motor City...

Yes...I did promise to show the softer side of Detroit, didn't I?  Some of you will recall reading about shuttered automobile assembly plants, abandoned houses and derelict buildings in my last entry ( Well, here are some aspects of the city that are downright awesome!

The Detroit Zoo has a butterfly exhibit in which the little critters flit about without a care in the world, other than to pay no mind to twitterpated photographers chasing them for that perfect shot.  I cannot say these are perfect, but it was fun and entertaining.  As for what kinds of butterflies...I have no idea (though there is a Monarch in here somewhere), so if any of you happen to know, please email me or add your comments below.

The last two images have a funny story.  Apparently one of the attendants in the room saw me chasing the butterflies with my camera and said I should come to where she was standing.  "Look at these two...they are posing for you."  Indeed they were.  I had to wonder if I were witnessing some sort of mating or courtship ritual.  

The Butterfly Exhibit is in one of the earliest buildings in the Zoo, which was originally formed in 1912.

The Zoo has many more exhibits and wildlife than mere butterflies of course.  Here is a link for more information:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Detroit...a Harbinger of Things to Come?

My travels recently brought me to Motor City, USA.  Being the car guy that I am, and have been so since I was a teenager, this is a mecca of sorts.  I had also heard that Detroit had been hit especially hard by the downturn of our economy, and that large segments of the city was laid to waste.  I was curious, yet despite what I had heard and read, nothing could prepare me for the experience of seeing it for myself.  True, no part of the United States has been spared the effects of the Recession, but the centers of American manufacturing in the northeastern US were probably the hardest hit.  I was both humbled and shocked at what I saw.

It was sad to drive past shuttered factories and abandoned automobile assembly plants...vast parking lots covering tens of acres...empty except for the occasional security car (who wanted to know why I was taking photos and of course wouldn't let me in for a closer peek).   It was even sadder to drive past block after residential block of boarded-up, abandoned or burned out homes.  According to some reports, entire neighborhoods have disappeared and become devoid of homes.

This is Ford Motor Company's Wixom Assembly Plant, where Lincoln Continentals and Thunderbirds were assembled and shipped across the country.  Originally built in 1957, this was one of the oldest and largest Ford plants and produced more than 6 million cars over a 50 year period, until it was shut down in 2007. 

Up to 4,900 employees worked here in the heyday of production, and a little over a thousand when the plant closed.  Here is a video of the day the plant shut down:

The effects of the plant closures (and Ford wasn't the only one, by any means) was devastating to the community.  Detroit was also known for it's beautiful pre-Depression era architecture...buildings such as grand theaters, luxury hotels, offices and other skyscraper buildings that rivaled those in Chicago and New York City.   Even those were not spared the fate of abandonment.  Nothing drives home the economic state of a region more than to see a 16-story building...gutted, derelict and left to the effects of weather and vandalism.  This is the Lee Plaza Hotel, built in the 1920's as a luxury residential hotel.

A street-side view of this building shows a hint of its former glory, with graceful arches and columns now closed behind chain-link fences and sidewalks overgrown with weeds.  More can be seen at this site:

Another phenomenon which I did not expect was the number of burned-out houses scattered throughout the city.  One cannot drive more than a few blocks before encountering the charred hulks like those pictured here.  It wasn't just single family homes, but skeletons of apartment buildings, former motels and commercial buildings were also seen repeatedly.  A quick Google search found a couple of reasons for it, one of which is a so-called tradition going back to the 1980's called "Devils Night" before Halloween where empty houses are set afire. and's_Night.

Also, Detroit fell victim to a number of other inner city issues such as urban flight where many fled to outlying suburbs, leaving empty homes behind...which became targets for vandalism, squatters and arson.  The reasons for leaving of course, are legion.  Allegations of corruption in city government offices and racial tensions are among the ingredients of the soup of recession that bubbles throughout the city. 

The feelings of despair and depression are palpable as one drives through some of the neighborhoods.  Drug addiction and the collateral damage that accompanies it are rampant.  One can wonder but when one cannot find work, be it meaningful or survival, it is no surprise one seeks whatever means one can to alleviate the pain and frustration. 

What is the solution?  Is it as simple as providing jobs for people, so food can be placed on the table and a roof over one's head?  Is it so one can hold one's head up in pride, knowing one contributes to the community...and to society? 

It also begs the question of what is the true cost of corporate profit.  When is the bottom line so important that the community must suffer so that investors meet their goal?  What is government's role in promoting or affecting the corporate decision process?

Having traveled to "real" third world countries, I am at a loss to differentiate with what I have read, seen in images, and now with my own eyes here, in what we would like to call the developed world. 

Is this our future?  That depends on how one contemplates the questions presented here.  I am not a bleeding heart liberal who advocates taking what one person works hard for, and giving to another simply because they don't have it.  However...I am also not a hard-nosed conservative who guards my possessions rights at all costs.

There must be some middle ground...

(Comments are welcome...and lest you become too depressed over this picture I have painted, stay tuned for some truly lovely aspects of Detroit.)