Rebecca Solnit’s “Detroit Arcadia” (2007)
On the possibility of a new Detroit
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
On the possibility of a new Detroit
In July 2007, Harper’s Magazine published “Detroit Arcadia: Exploring the post-American landscape,” by Rebecca Solnit. The piece was the focus this week of the Nieman Storyboard website’s “Why’s this so good?” feature. “How remarkable,” author Jennifer B. McDonald writes,
to encounter a profile of the city brimming with words like these: lush, rich, heartening, handsome, shining, flourishing, fertile, fine, sustainable, potential, visionary, beautiful, hope. They are the words of an alternative narrative about efforts to remake Detroit not according to the old constraints of commerce and industry, but in a wholly new image.
The original story, which was accompanied by the photography of Misty Keasler (whose work will be featured in the October issue of the magazine), ran in the months before the subprime mortgage crisis began, which in turn helped usher in the Great Recession, which in turn played a role in leading Detroit to file bankruptcy in July. McDonald again: “Solnit has an unusual talent . . . for spinning the camera so that it lands not on easy, vulnerable targets of blame, but on the shadowy, better-protected figures responsible for wrenching the levers of harmful change.”
Solnit also applies that talent to the history of the city, at one point suggesting how the seeds for Detroit’s downturn were planted during the period when it was growing most robustly:
The city-hating Ford said that he wanted every family in the world to have a Ford, and he priced them so that more and more families could. He also fantasized about a post-urban world in which workers would also farm, seasonally or part time, but he did less to realize that vision. Private automobile ownership was a double blow against the density that is crucial to cities and urbanism and against the Fordist model of concentrated large-scale manufacture. Ford was sabotaging Detroit and then Fordism almost from the beginning.
More from Harper’s Magazine:
Official Business — March 17, 2015, 4:01 am
Listen to the broadcast version of “American Hustle,” Alexandra Starr’s story, for the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, about how elite youth basketball exploits African athletes.
Official Business — January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm
We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.
Acreage of a Christian nudist colony under development in Florida:
Florida’s wildlife officials decided to remove the manatee, which has a mild taste that readily adapts to recipes for beef, from the state’s endangered-species list.
A 64-year-old mother and her 44-year-old son were arrested for running a gang that stole more than $100,000 worth of toothbrushes from Publix, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS stores in Florida.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”