By the end of the nineteenth century, Detroit, founded by the French as a fur-trading post, was thriving. In 1913 Henry Ford began mass-producing cars at his Model T plant, transforming the area into the Silicon Valley of its day. By 1920 it was the fourth largest city in America and by the mid-1950s General Motors had become the single biggest employer on earth. Here indeed was 'the most modern city in the world, the city of tomorrow'.
But by the time Berry Gordy founded Motown Records in 1960 - thereby creating twentieth-century Detroit's other great assembly line - the cracks were already beginning to show: big industry was looking elsewhere for cheaper sites, cheaper labour and better tax breaks; urban planning was in meltdown; corruption was rife; racial tensions were running high. The 1967 riots - at the time the worst in US history - left 43 dead, more than 7,000 arrested and 3,000 buildings destroyed. Detroit, a former beacon of the capitalist dream, had degenerated into an urban wilderness where unemployment ran at 50 per cent. With more guns in the city than people, the murder rate was the highest in America - three times that of New York.
Mark Binelli returned to live in his native Detroit after a break of many years. He tells the story of the boom and the bust - and of the new society to be found emerging from the debris: Detroit with its urban farms and vibrant arts scene; Detroit as a laboratory for the post-industrial, post-recession world. Here's what an iconic rust-belt city now looks like and how it might transform and regenerate itself in the twenty-first century.show more