Harper's Finest — August 13, 2013, 2:35 pm

Rebecca Solnit’s “Detroit Arcadia” (2007)

On the possibility of a new Detroit

Harper's Magazine, July 2007

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.

You can read the entirety of “Detroit Arcadia” here, and Jennifer B. McDonald’s analysis of the piece here.

Share
Single Page

More from Harper’s Magazine:

Official Business January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm

The Art of Outrage

We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.

Memento Mori September 2, 2014, 5:33 pm

Charles Bowden (1945–2014)

Mentions July 16, 2014, 7:00 pm

“The End of Retirement” on MSNBC

Watch Jessica Bruder on MSNBC’s The Cycle

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2015

The War of the World

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Sharp Edge of Life

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Great Republican Land Heist

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Captive Market

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Day of the Sea

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Great Republican Land Heist·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The wholesale transfer of public lands to state control may never be achieved. But the goal might be more subtle: to attack the value of public lands.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Sharp Edge of Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The struggle of the novelist has been to establish a measure, a view of human nature, and usually, though not always, as large a view as belief and imagination can wring from observable facts.”
Photo by Eddie Adams/Associated Press
Article
Captive Market·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Fear of random violence lives on, but the reality is that violent-crime rates have dropped to levels not seen since the early Seventies."
Photograph by Richard Ross
Article
The Day of the Sea·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Fifteen judges will then sit together in a wood-paneled room, in a city thousands of miles from the Andes, and decide whether the ocean Bolivia claims as its right will at last be returned to it.”
Photo by Fabio Cuttica/Contrasto/Redux
Post
The Art of Outrage·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Illustration by Art Spiegelman

Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations:

22,000

A fertility scientist named Panayiotis Zavos announced that he had created human-cow embryos that were theoretically viable, but denied that he planned to allow such a hybrid to be implanted in a woman’s womb. “We are not trying to create monsters,” he said.

A statistician determined that the five most common first names among New York City taxi drivers are Md, Mohammad, Mohammed, Muhammad, and Mohamed.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today