“We want to have everything cleaned up in five years”

Face to face, two buildings of about twenty floors vanish and burn on the arid soil. Under the blows of cranes and excavators, their red bricks are shattered. Water cannons find it difficult to contain the clouds of dust emanating from the debris, making the atmosphere even heavier.

In the streets of Detroit, the main city of Michigan, the fallen queen of the auto industry declared bankrupt in July 2013, the scene is now as common as the assembly lines of Ford, Chrysler or General Motors were. The images of ruined buildings have almost become the essence of this city of past industrial excess, gradually abandoned by its demiurges.

A paradise for lovers of urban exploration that has become the nightmare of the inhabitants, who rub shoulders with post-industrial atavism every day: buildings squatted by dealers or prostitutes, wild dumps where tires and garbage pile up, empty buildings that the sun pierces before returning, at night, to the dismal lair from which the inhabitants advise to move away. In some neighborhoods, life subsists only in fragments. One or two homes inhabited here or there. Then wastelands, abandoned factories, charred mounds, desolate land. The rubble of an economic war that devastated Detroit and a lasting stain on the city’s reputation.

« Shrinking City »

The city wants to dismantle this past which compromises its future. The Detroit Blight Removal (literally: “remove the rust”) Task Force, a coalition of public and private authorities brought together by Barack Obama in 2013, identified just over 80,000 dilapidated structures, according to a report published in May. This figure, however high, does not frighten the public authorities. “We want to have everything cleaned up in five years”, says Brian Farkas, director of special projects at the city’s buildings agency.

But, a sign that times are changing in “Motown” (the city of the automobile), “green” demolition is now being advocated. “Recycling”, “recovery”, “deconstruction”: so many keywords that punctuate the speeches of those responsible for this titanic project. « We don’t want to be like in the past : destroy buildings and let construction sites drag on for several months until illegal dumps multiply, says Brian Farkas. We have a real opportunity to achieve something interesting from an environmental point of view. “

A monumental undertaking awaits Detroit. At the height of its past excess. About a third of the residential stock is uninhabited, because, in half a century, “Motor City” has lost a large part of its population, becoming “Shrinking City”, the shrinking city. The old banner of the American dream numbered 2 million inhabitants in the 1950s: today, only 700,000 people inhabit the desert streets. A skin of sorrow that the subprime crisis, in the summer of 2007, continued to shrink.

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