Post-Industrial Artistic Renaissance in Detroit

Post-Industrial Artistic Renaissance in Detroit


In the latter part of the last century, we began a collective de-industrialization process that will likely last for a century or more. Post-industrial changes are likely to be more noticeable in cities where heavy industrial efforts have been increasingly prominent since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In 2007, for the first time in the history of the civilization the total number of people living in cities exceeded the numbers living in the countryside. Trends and changes in urban life will thus take on increasing importance as we move further into the present century.

City landscapes are beginning to change significantly. Nowhere in America is this transformation more prominent than in  Detroit. There are a number of reasons why Detroit may be out in front of most other American cities in its de-industrialization. First, after a heavy period of industrial output during World War II, Detroit lost nearly half of its manufacturing jobs from 1947-1963. They did not all go elsewhere. Many jobs were eliminated as they were demanding and dangerous jobs associated with automobile manufacture. These jobs were automated, following a general trend that also occurred elsewhere in heavy industry. Labor issues also pushed large numbers of jobs elsewhere, and some of these were effectively outsourced to southern states where labor costs were much lower in some cases.

In addition to labor issues, many other factors led to the loss of both jobs and people from Detroit. Population gradually declined, businesses left and many  buildings and factories were left behind. Some were demolished, but many were left to stand. Some neighborhoods were strong but many had poor self identification and contained homes which were modestly or poorly constructed. Downtown shops were poorly organized and many left for the suburbs or went out of business after the civil unrest in the late 1960s. Later at the end of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, after further neighborhood disintegration, many homes were sold or abandoned. Some of these were abandoned homes were subjected to arson fires and burned to the ground. This gradually increased the numbers of vacant areas in the city adding to the already large spaces that were opened up by fires in the riots of the 1967 and by the slower evacuation and demolition of buildings on industrial land that had been abandoned. Of course, over time the city had been successful in converting some of these properties to other uses.

The city started with some significant downtown projects and later pushed into neighborhoods providing green spaces, urban farms, some environmentally friendly business space, coops and cooperative markets. More recently the population which remains has gotten more seriously involved (not waiting for downtown leaders to lead). A group of mostly southern born African Americans set up a group known as “Gardening Angels”  and began to clean lots , plant flower and vegetable gardens and build greenhouses from recycled materials. There is an obvious growing interest in their work.

Increasingly younger people and children are becoming involved. A Greening Detroit organization started work on reforesting areas of the city. Artists populated the city in increasing numbers, and with the assistance of neighborhoods and merchants revitalized parts of the city with public and private art projects.

The Detroit Institute of Art has encouraged artists to document their work and the work of others around the city, distributing over 700 cameras to artists to tell the city’s story. These artists many of whom are Generation Yers collected over 12,000 photos, many of which were displayed at the city’s public libraries. The city has also made many unused or abandoned buildings available to resident artists or to visiting artists. There is a feeling that art is on the cutting edge of all that is happening in Detroit–indeed, art is happening everywhere.

Detroit is no stranger to creativity in the arts. One sees this in it’s architecture, in it’s signs and illustrations, even in those associated with automobile design. The city is well known to the performing arts, in blues and jazz, rock and roll and the famous institution of Motown, Inc. and even in the design of its streets which are patterned after those of Paris, France. Many streets have French sounding names partly due to the combined French influence of the design of its streets and partly perhaps due to the early French Canadians and their Indian compatriots.


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Richard A. Hudson is a writer, reader and blogger committed to exercise, proper nutrition and health.  He’s interested in politics, economics, alternative energy, gardening and sustainability and has written brief essays on many of these topics on his blog  Despite his generally positive and optimistic views about globalization, he wonders whether we will survive current destructive forces that increasingly promote warfare among political and social classes. He is also beginning to think about the declining influence of the know-it-all baby boomer generation just as the next generation born in the 60s begins to slowly stumble into a dominant position in the U.S.

 He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago (1966) and subsequently spent 42 years in academics, gradually developing all sorts of interests well beyond his basic training.  He ended his academic career in 2008, having published about 100 scientific papers, reviews and commentaries.  In his last several years in the academy, his role as Dean of the Graduate School afforded him many opportunities to interact with students from all over the world seeking graduate degrees.


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