• Apr 23, 2010
GM headquarters stands tall behind ruins in Detroit – Click above for high-res image gallery

Once upon a time, Detroit was a city to be envied. Its inhabitants were highly-skilled workers that earned solid wages and lived in nice homes that made up good neighborhoods. So alluring was the promise of Detroit that the city grew sixfold throughout the first half of the previous century. In fact, at its peak in 1950, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the United States and looked to all the world as if its boundaries would do nothing but increase over the next few decades. Suffice it to say, this didn't happen.

Nearly a million people in the last 60 years have left the city, meaning that Detroit has literally thousands of empty office buildings, theaters, houses and hotels. In the once bustling Downtown area alone, there are more than 200 abandoned buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of them can be seen in our high-res image gallery below. But how did it get this way, and is there no hope for The Motor City? Read on past the break for the rest of the story.




[Images: Getty]

It's no surprise that Detroit's rise and fall can also be plotted on a chart by the ebb and flow of American automobile manufacturers and suppliers. Today, there are three large automakers that operate on a global scale that are based in or around Detroit, Michigan. That's a far cry from how things used to be in the city. Nameplates like Packard and Hudson once grace many an automotive plant within the Detroit city limits, but all that's left of these great manufacturing sites are now piles of rubble and abandoned buildings in various states of disrepair.

Even the Big Three automakers, namely General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, are relics of their former selves. After 77 consecutive years as the largest automaker in the world, General Motors was passed up by Japan's Toyota in 2008. Similarly, Ford is now the third largest seller of automobiles in the United States, and Chrysler was recently passed for the number four position by Honda, also out of Japan. And we're all familiar with last summer's bankruptcies of both GM and Chrysler.



Sounds depressing, doesn't it? Such facts and figures, along with a helicopter ride over the derelict city, prompted well-known late night television news series Dateline to suggest that the City of Detroit looks like Sarajevo from the air. Check out a segment of video from that episode at the bottom of this post.

Perhaps, though, the death of one industry can lead to opportunities for others who are willing to take a chance on the once proud city.

One such upstart industry may very well be farming. Intriguingly, Michael Score, president of Hantz Farms, has a plan that's currently in action that would see Detroit rise up as one of the largest areas of urban farmland in the world. Sound like a fanciful idea with little shot at actually working?

"That's the beauty of being down and out," says Hantz. "You can actually open your mind to ideas that you would never otherwise embrace."

Looking beneath the surface, the idea seemingly has merit. To wit, some 40 of the city's 140 or so square miles can be counted as barren residential or commercial land. To put that into perspective, the entire city of Miami, Florida, doesn't account for 40 square miles. For those living on the other side of the U.S. map, that's also roughly the size of San Francisco, California.

There are other influential people, though, that would simply like to see the city shrink down to a more manageable size now that its population is less than half of what it once was.



One such person is current Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who is banking on the fact that the city's population will decrease by a substantial margin with the latest census for 2010. Assuming things go the way Bing expects, the mayor has plans to reduce the number of city workers, transportation services and school districts. While that would mean Detroit would get less funding from the federal government, it would also allow the city to lower its expenses in dramatic fashion and allow it to focus on the best options for recovery.

"We've got to pick those core communities, those core neighborhoods" to sustain and preserve, he said at a recent public appearance. "That's something that's possible here in Detroit."

Detroit's long-declining automotive industry is showing signs of recovery as well. General Motors has paid back the federal loans it received to help it through the bankruptcy process five years ahead of schedule, Chrysler reported a much smaller loss than anticipated last quarter and Ford has seen its sales, market share and revenue improve dramatically over the last few months.

Says White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, "We're not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. We have seen improvement. I think it's testament to a lot of people's hard work."

While Gibbs was referring specifically to the American automotive industry, perhaps a similar sentiment could be cast towards the City of Detroit in general. It's clearly not yet out of the water, but with a little hard work, perhaps some of its long-lost luster can once again be regained.



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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 184 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      The article and video are taken from a NBC Dateline Special on Detroit with Chris Hanson. Despite Chris Hanson being from Detroit, it was a smear job and another bash Detroit by the national media. It was very well done in portraying the problems of the city, but it was very unbalanced and offered little evidence of "hope." Needless to say, there has been plenty talk about it in these parts ever since it aired two weeks ago. One segment showed a resident who is a blues player by day and hunts racoons at night for food. Despite the show's ability to find such a person, absolutely NO ONE knows anyone who hunts racoons in the city. Give me a break. AND, what musician worth their grain of salt would play blues by DAY rather than night? Let's get real. The entire show made Detroit look like a deserted wasteland. Religious leaders have a meeting scheduled for Monday in New York to meet with NBC executives and Chris Hanson. My summation of Chris Hanson: TRAITOR!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I shared the glory days of Detroit, the late 30's,40's and 50's before leaving. I returned 40 years later, and houses boarded up, my high school demolished, my church boarded up, cars on the lawns, mattresses on the driveway, and beautiful homes , at one time, boarded up.

      What is needed is another Lee Iacocca to return to Detroit and tell the City Folks, what's wrong with the city and what they should do to fix it up. The truth hurts, I know, but the citizens of Detroit have no white or black leader.

      When I grew up these homes with their full basements, long porches , playing horseshoes in the alleys with the neighbors, and yes, baseball in the streets sometimes.

      They were beautiful homes with space and warmth during the cold winters. I delivered the Detroit News rain or snow every day of the week riding my bike.

      One gallon of paint given to every home could lighten up the city overnight and make people feel proud of their city. The people in the 20's worked to make the city a decent place to live and raise a family. Instead of blaming everyone , take a look at Hirosima after the Atom Bomb, and look at it today. Look at Detroit today!
      • 4 Years Ago
      When Obama gets done all US citys will look like this
        w7c2012
        • 2 Years Ago
        If Clinton had remained president the economy would never have tanked in the first place?
      Mike
      • 4 Years Ago
      To suggust that unions were the cause of Detroits plight is just ignorant. The chief cause for the decline of unions in the US was their failure to see beyond the short term and their immediate members, when what they needed to do was link up with the civil rights movement and growing white collar sector. You can't relocate to the South if the South has unions too, and you can't relocate to Mexico if Mexico has unions too. It's as true today as it was in 1910, where labor is apolitical and divided capital runs rampant, destroying lives and communities.
      iratechnologies
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's not Bush's fault, it's YOUR fault for driving around that ugly ass Toyota. Probably half the things in your house are made in China. I'm from Detroit and go out of my way everyday to buy AMERICAN.
        65 442
        • 4 Years Ago
        @iratechnologies
        I agree,Its clear that Detroits problems are created from lack of good jobs that it once had. I live in New York but always viewed Detroit as an iconic city and I thinks its sad that this happend because Americans are selfish and don't care about buying American made products.
      TreeExprt
      • 4 Years Ago
      Most people know the main reason why Detroit is what it is today, but no one will say it out loud! You say it and you become a racist!
      stevebarbour08
      • 4 Years Ago
      i live 15 minutes away from detroit and thats just some parts of detroit, like south west isnt bad but does have alot of abanded house, like where i live its so nice you wouldnt even think i live in the city next to detroit, just put it this way the farther you get from detroit the nicer it gets
      • 4 Years Ago
      Interesting idea bout the farming. Everybody here wants to play the blame game, but it's pointless. What everyone here should be doing is coming up with new ideas for Detroit. Detroit needs NEW industry. They ought to go all out and become a party destination. 24 hour alcohol sales, legalized prostitution, full on casinos with no game restrictions and sports betting, and for the farming? Well make it sweet mary jane. Legal pot for recreation. It can be done cheaply there, and offering more legalized vice than you can get anywhere else is one hell of a moneymaker. But there are too many cowards who think such an idea is too radical. What do they have to lose now though?
        • 4 Years Ago
        ...SO...your idea is just kill off the REST of the ones that r left the REST of the values and the REST of th HOPE huh?.....for the ALMIGHTY DOLLAR!!?......WOW you sound like the crooks that got not just Detroit but the whole US in this mess!!!! how ignorant and pathetic!!!!!!
      Rob
      • 4 Years Ago
      You have to understand the sickle manner in which the auto industry and this state have worked for years. When you couple that with a culture set up to fail and be forced to rely on government handouts remove, pride of accomplishment, pride in neighborhoods and the total losss of a quality K-12 educations. Sadly as a Union menber I was part of this demise that was doomed to fail from the start. Becasue of the sucess of many manufacturing concerns it took a cuople decades longer than was originally aniticipated. Special Interests have felt for many years that if htey could control manufacturing and the labor market that fed that marketplace they could control the education of the people. The good people of Detroit were given just enough opportunity to fail becasue many of hose who didn;t fail went to more owrk friendly envisroments and are still thriving businesses today. Granted we have all been hurt my the policies of this Obamanation of unsustainable policies but becasue we are a resilient society and we prise our freedon and zealously guard it with our lives if necessary we will come out of this by removing the cancers directing our demise. God Bless America
      • 4 Years Ago
      Detroit is a mess and for alot of reasons.

      Investing ONLY in the auto industry was the most glaring error made. No one made any attempts to bing in new industry or services in the city, once Motown left town the Big Three were all Detroit had left.

      Detroit had one of the most corrupt political systems in the entire country ranging from Coleman Young right up to the prison bound Kwame Kilpatrick. The puzzling thing is that the people of Motor City kept electing and re-electing politicians they knew were dirty. The FBI, for example, was rumored to have had ample evidence of Coleman Young's misdeeds. Dave Bing seems to be doing a decent job but the City Council seems populated by nothing but childish opportunists who do things that only benefit themselves.

      The Detroit Riots scared off alot of people, some left for the suburbs while others left Michigan altogether. Racial tension still exsists in the city between not only white and black people but also other minorities who have settled in the area.

      All the corruption in the city have also affected the Police Department, people here don't trust the police at all which is why crime is so rampant in the area. Detroit is not a place anyone wants to be in at night; shootings, muggings, and rapes are common. Who wants to come to a city like that? Certainly not rich business men.




      Jim A
      • 4 Years Ago
      You also have to wonder why Democrats run all the large cities that are in trouble. These photos could be in many areas in Philadelphia.
        Pappy
        • 4 Years Ago
        @Jim A
        Very honest observation Jim. Rhode Island has been ran by Demo's and the public gangaster unions (city and state) for over 40 years. Social give away programs and unoin contracts that are the finest in the country .... but now -well we just can't afford anymore of this take take take mentallity.

        Look at LA and California ..same socialist type programs are killing it.

        We all need to put a stop to this madness that somehow throwing more money at a person or a groups problems will fix it. 40 years of social fixes are coming back to haunt us. It has all been a big lie ... a big redistribution of wealth squandered on I fallen and can't get up ... do it for me types.

        Obama is making it worse because he believes we need bigger gov't and more programs. Vote all that speak of more gov't out this Novemeber.
        Peace everyone andbest wishes.

        Pappy in RI

      es1stgirl
      • 4 Years Ago
      I moved to Detroit for one year during 1984-5. My car insurance quadrupled, city services were non-existent, we paid city taxes for nothing. The crime was horrible and we paid more for food that was spoiled already. We fixed it in middle 1985 by moving back to the suburbs. Everything dropped in price but the rent. We felt fortunate to feel safe in our beds at night without the fear of some idiot shooting their gun when the Tigers won the 1984 World Series. We recently took a ride near the neighborhood we briefly lived in. It was truly like a war zone. It wasn't President Bush's fault. It all started with the regime of Coleman A. Young, and the A stands for arrogant a**hole, and continued with Kwame's gang. And yes, I'm white but thought we would try to live in the city but it wasn't safe. Game over - time for Dave Bing to close down the overpaid and non working Detroit city offices. They should have been shut a very long time ago!!! Corruption was alive and well when Kwame was there.
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