Day 16: City on Fire

Day 16: City on Fire

Tonight, Liz and I watched what I guess was the season finale of Tony Bourdain’s new show on CNN, “Parts Unknown” where he visited the city of Detroit.

It was stunning.

The city, I mean. The show too, obviously, but really the city.

I’m on record as saying that I really love ruins, especially industrial ruins, so it was already a subject right up my alley, but my mind was flat out blown by the situation that city finds itself in today.

Right off the top we were given the statistic that there are currently 700,000 people living in Motown…which within just the last two decades had topped out at 2,000,000. A third of the population remains. A *third*. That means, literally, two thirds of the city is abandoned. Tony’s guide then went on to point out all the skyscrapers on the skyline that were empty. One had just sold for $5 million. FOR A SKYSCRAPER. That’s a fucking three bedroom house in Beverly Hills.

The next segment that blew my mind was on the fire department. They deal with 14 acts of arson EVERY DAY. 14 fires set on purpose, every day. People trying to burn down abandoned neighborhoods so that crack heads and vagrants don’t live next door to them. And this is a fire department that’s less than half of the size that it was 20 years ago, dealing with double the amount of work. Most fires, they said, are never investigated, for obvious reasons.

Then, there was the segment about the gang of mowers; men on their riding lawn mowers who meet every week to mow the grass on any of the 72 parks that the city of Detroit closed. Yup. That’s right. In the early 2000’s, Detroit closed all their parks. Abandoned all 72 of them. No more playgrounds. No more fairs. Not even grass mowing. Done.

Finally was the fact that, save Whole Foods which just moved in this year, there is not a single chain grocery store in Detroit. It’s been that way for 7 years, if I remember correctly. Critics of this fact have been loudly and vocally pointing out that there are a plethora of independent groceries that serve the area, which is a bit of a “duh”…obviously there are still 700,000 people who have to eat somehow…but the fact that my home town in Northern California has no fewer than three chain stores serving around 40,000 people, the fact that Detroit had none is mind boggling.

It’s a completely different world. Tony likened it to Chernobyl, which has Detroit residents and advocates up in arms. But I do see a parallel. It’s not complete, mind you; Detroit hasn’t been toxically poisoned by radiation for godsake, BUT…the amount of abandoned industry and civic structures is *strikingly* similar. It’s downright post-apocalyptic.