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Stalking Detroit

review

Edited by George Daskalakis, Charles Waldheim and Jason Young. Actar, 2001. 158pp. £21.50.

Available from Triangle Bookshop 020 7631 1381

The 'Capital of the Twentieth Century' is dying, writes Robert Cowan. This book's eerie photographs show grassland colonising what were once Detroit's inner areas.'Nowhere else has American modernity so completely had its way with people and place alike, 'says Jerry Herron in his essay.

The city stands accused of having failed to make liveable places. On the contrary, Herron argues, the city did produce places to get to: 'We got there, by choice, on paved highways. And it is the extraordinary wealth created by this city, Detroit, that made the trip possible for numbers of individuals unprecedented in the long histories of human societies. That is what the city did.

'Now, to presume its putative exhaustion is evidence of anything but the city's successful design is like blaming the gas tank for getting empty or the tires for wearing out when somebody drives the family car.'

According to this analysis, the problem is not that so many people used the city to get to where they wanted to go, but that not everybody was allowed to come along for the ride. Today the excluded population struggles to survive in the ruins.

The city's planners have proposed carving it up into recognisable communities divided by green belts, 'sealing the ultimate fate of Detroit as a suburb of its own suburbs', in the words of Patrick Schumacher and Christian Rogner in their essay. Other options are explored, intriguingly if unconvincingly, in the book's several well-illustrated urban design projects.

Meanwhile, no doubt, the ghost of Henry Ford looks on, baffled, at the polycentric conurbation where the post-Fordist service economy flourishes in a new form of urbanism beyond the city limits. Stalking Detroit is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got there.

Robert Cowan is director of the Urban Design Group and a consultant

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