Angry Robot

SRSI: To Detroit

So yeah. Went to Detroit. Let me take a step back. Came back to Windsor on thursday night, was immediately whisked off to karaoke at Billy’s bar in Sandwich Town, which was excellent. Friday was a tour of Windsor’s forgotten suburbs, relics of ambitious overexpansion in the past. We were led by the incredible Lee Rodney in the border bookmobile.

These are houses on Chappas street, a whole neighbourhood that stands vacant because the land has been bought up for the proposed Detroit River International Crossing, a new bridge that the Ontario and federal governments are planning.

Chappas Houses

Here is an old sidewalk running through a park:

In Brunette park

I stopped by the storefronts a little on friday. On Saturday, Thea and I went to Detroit. I had a million places I wanted to see in Detroit but we didn’t want to be gone all day so we kept it to two spots:


Number one was the train station, Michigan Central Station, which was built in the early 20th century but has stood vacant since 1988. Sure, it’s classic tourist ruin porn, but it also has to be seen to be believed.

Thea at Michigan Central Station 2


Number two was the Heidelberg Project.

Heidelberg Dot House
It’s named after the street it’s on, and – well, let me quote their site:

The Heidelberg Project, bearing the name of the street on which it exists, was started in 1986 by Tyree Guyton. He was assisted by his grandfather, Sam (Grandpa) Mackey (deceased), and his former wife, Karen Guyton. Tyree was raised on Heidelberg Street and, at the age of 12, witnessed the tragic effect of the Detroit riots – from which he claims the City of Detroit never recovered. Though once racially integrated, many neighborhoods have become segregated urban ghettos characterized by poverty, abandonment, and despair.

Armed with a paintbrush, a broom, and neighborhood children, Guyton, Karen, and Grandpa began by cleaning up vacant lots on Heidelberg and Elba Streets. From the refuse they collected, Guyton began to transform the street into a massive art environment. Vacant lots literally became “lots of art” and abandoned houses became “gigantic art sculptures.” Guyton not only transformed vacant houses and lots, he integrated the street, sidewalks, and trees into his mammoth installation and called his work, “The Heidelberg Project”, after its location on Heidelberg Street.

Here are some pics:

Heidelberg Houses

Heidelberg - Kanye Santa

Like I said, I was only in Detroit half the day. But even such cursory driving about the city gave me some slightly better understanding of a city that has fascinated me for some time. Just as a few pictures of riots and vandals could give you the impression that G20 protesters in general were a bunch of hooligans, the ruin porn and the breathless tales of desolation could give you the impression that Detroit is a hopeless hellhole. Now, this was a landscape unlike any I’ve seen – not just the ruins and the urban prairies but also the 10-lane arterial roads downtown, the monorail (Monorail!), the trip over the bridge, etc. etc. But there are pockets downtown of much activity, pedestrian and otherwise. And the mere presence of something like Heidelberg (which was a hive of activity when we went, because of the US Social Forum) has got to be reason for hope.

We returned to Windsor and went out that night to the Loop which was good times, and then I was back to shooting around the SRSI storefronts on sunday and monday, getting lots of insane footage. News of the G20 disaster made me feel distressed and strangely homesick sunday, but reading about that march sunday aft. made me feel better.

I’ll post more about the documentary process by tomorrow.