This video was made for an exhibition in Manchester, UK, October 2012. It is a result of fieldwork conducted in Detroit, MI, and the video was projected directly on a brick wall.
“When I bought in the neighbourhood, all of my friends and family, who for the most part are suburbanites, thought I was absolutely insane to invest in this area. (Elias)
In this installation, you are invited on a drive up and down Cass Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the Cass Corridor, on a slow Sunday afternoon. Listening to the car radio, you are informed about how people, who live and travel through the area, perceive and experience the change that is taken place in this area these years, as the street passes by. The Cass Corridor is located just north of downtown Detroit and is part of the rebranded area Midtown.
Inspired by the methodology suggested by anthropologist Andrew Irving in ‘The Skin of the City’ (2006), I wanted to evoke a dialogue between people and the surrounding city. In this installation, most of the presented interviews are conducted either in the streets of the Cass Corridor or in shops in the area, with the purpose of evoking personal experiences. The skin of the city comes alive, as personal experiences in the area and outlooks at the world are expressed. Furthermore are the changes in the neighbourhood expressed by the residents, which give an impression of the dynamics found specifically in the Cass Corridor and in Detroit in general.
The drive takes you from the edge of the downtown area, beginning at the Fisher Freeway and goes 2 km north to Warren Avenue West and back down.
The city, the car, and the people
“The car has been….good and bad!
The automobile industry has shaped the life of the people living in Detroit – both in the past and the present. In the heyday of the industry, during the first half of the 20th century, people from Europe, Canada, and the southern states of the United States migrated to the ‘Motor City’ in order to take part in the golden era and strive for social mobility. As the industry started to collapse in the 1960s due to competition from effective, cheaper Japanese cars, violence and frustration overshadowed the city. Riots took place and Detroit came to be seen as a dangerous place for white people to live.
As whites fled to the suburbs in pursuit of the ‘American dream’, the population in Detroit fell from two million to 700,000 over five decades. The city became predominantly African-American and earned the nickname ‘Murder City’ as violence in the city increased. The car, along with the freeway system built after World War II, transported whites between their homes in the suburbs and their workplaces in the city. This helped to maintain the racial segregation that had always been explicit in Detroit.
Today, white people have started to move back to the city. One area that is very popular and where change is taking place is the area renamed Midtown. Different stakeholders have tried to change the perception of this area, and its neighbourhoods, including the infamous Cass Corridor.
“All the empty lots, they were all apartment buildings full of people…it was an actual neighbourhood.
In the end of the 19th century, the Cass Corridor was home to Detroit’s white elites. Automobile suppliers started to build factories in the area, and the area was taken over by white workers, as the city grew in size. Detroit’s downfall resulted in a concentration of prostitution and drug trade in the Cass Corridor, and it became one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. The cheep housing attracted intellectuals, the non-conformist youth, and artists in the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, police crackdowns on the cocaine trade and neglect of apartment buildings resulted in the empty lots that are found in the southern part of the Cass Corridor today.
Within the past five years, a new tendency has picked up in the area, as residents are moving into restored lofts, apartment buildings, and Victorian homes in the northern part of the Cass Corridor, near Wayne State University. On West Willis Street, the bakery ‘Avalon International Breads’ draws customers from all of Detroit and the suburbs to this one street to buy bread.
Martin Luther King Street divides the northern and the southern parts of the Cass Corridor. To the south, Peterboro Street is still known for drugs and prostitution. The change that is taking place in the northern part and in downtown has not yet reached this area. Change will have consequences for the people who have made these streets their home, as they represent a poor part of the population, and many struggle with drug abuse and homelessness. If these changes spread to this area too, the most vulnerable will be pushed out due to social and economical pressure.
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