Requiem For Detroit

First up on my 6 Billion Ways schedule is a film about Detroit made by acclaimed music documentary maker and former punk Julien Temple. It’s possibly a bit early in the day to be sat in a dark screening room, but I’m a big fan of Temple’s films. Oil City Confidential, about lesser known 70s band Dr Feelgood, in particular is fantastic.

So why then is a Temple film being shown at an event like 6 Billions Ways?

Detroit boat house by Bob Jagendorf

Well, Detroit is famous for its music of course. But as you probably also know the Motor City is the birthplace of Henry Ford’s mass car production line and modern consumer society. It’s also a city which has been in inexorable decline for the last few decades. The city was built for 2 million but now only 800,000 live there. Huge swathes of the city – both industrial and residential areas – now lay derelict, overrun by wild plants. A friend sitting next to me noted how much the footage reminded him of the film version of Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic book The Road.

As Temple illustrates – through interviews with a huge range of locals, amazing looking old stock footage (where does he find it all?) and a soundtrack of choice tunes from the Motor City – Detroit is pretty much now the American nightmare, as opposed to the dream. Or, as local artist Lowell Boileau puts it: “A slow motion Katrina.”

This is essentially because the destinies of the car industry and Detroit were fatally intertwined, and as the former declined, a vacuum was created. It’s also because the worst and most unsustainable aspects of capitalist and consumer society were promoted here. The first mall and freeway were in Detroit. Racially segregated towns, islands of suburbs. Not forgetting the in built obsolescence techniques of the Ford and GM Motors production line.

As Temple posits, Detroit is first post industrial city. But does that mean it’s the future?

Food for thought – and an advert for sustainability and ramping back the power of the market if ever there was one.

So as not to finish on a totally depressing note, here’s one of my favourite tunes from Detroit. It’s by a techno collective called, appropriately enough for today, Underground Resistance. The tune is also aptly named. It’s called Transition.

Hugh Reilly is Campaigns and Youth Web Editor at UNICEF UK. He tweets at @hughreillygotme

blog comments powered by Disqus