Comeback city? Detroit seeks to move on from bankruptcy

Once the symbol of America's auto industry, Detroit was ravaged by the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. But the Motor City is seeking new ways to rekindle its past glory. Philip Crowther and Gallagher Fenwick report from Detroit.


There's plenty of talk of a revival in Detroit these days. And when you come back from the brink, talk of regeneration might be appropriate. But in the case of the Motor City, the visible changes happen against the backdrop of sometimes extreme urban decay.

Back in the 1950s, Detroit was the capital of the American auto industry. Since then the country has gone through one of its worst economic crises. The city they call Motown was not spared. In 2013 it had to file for bankruptcy. It owed more than 20 billion dollars. The city is currently struggling to make its way out of debt and find its way back to the glory of its heyday.

The glory days were a long time ago though. Up until the 1960s the Packard and Fischer auto plants were a key part of the car industry. Fifty-five years later, Packard no longer exists. The abandoned buildings that once housed them have come to symbolise the decline of the city as a whole. They are now covered in graffiti and have turned into a playground for urban explorers. The fascination with this empty space is referred to by some as "urban porn".

Abandoned buildings dominate streetscape

The emptiness of one of America's big cities and erstwhile industrial powerhouses is striking. Tens of thousands of residents have left Detroit. There is empty land everywhere. The 100,000 abandoned houses, schools, police stations, and churches do not just dot the landscape. They dominate the current streetscape of Detroit.

In many places, nature or "urban prairie" has taken over. The Mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, says he wants to clean up the city’s image and redistribute housing. He intends to do so by having thousands of empty homes bulldozed. The process is in full swing: people’s former homes are razed to the ground every single day.

Detroit has made progress in some areas. Since 2014, it is no longer in the red. New investors have entered the fray, with new stores, breweries and organic markets popping up downtown.

Locals like to call Detroit "America's greatest comeback city". The question now is whether it can live up to its nickname.

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