Feral Houses

Now here's another cool thing.

As I'm sure you all know Detroit has had a bit of a demographic shift in the past few decades, meaning a shit-ton of people have left. Fortunately they were kind enough to leave their city behind. Parts of it are rotten and festering, but the urban decay has also become a focus or urban explorers and artists' more extreme, large-scale projects.

What better way to bring attention to demographic decline and housing loss than painting melting houses Tiggerific Orange?
The city has even become a centre for slow food and urban farming!

But what caught my eye recently was the feral houses pictured on Sweet Juniper.

Look at these beauties.
You can really see how thinned out the city has become. Fields where before there were fields. Or forests?
As Sweet Juniper points out gardens planted for aesthetics now frame houses in green, speaking to words like consume and swallow.
I've been talking with the plants. Their plan is to grow. Stab mortar with roots, pressure windows and invite wood back to earth. I like deconstruction sites where the foreman is nature.
These houses were obviously for the wealthy at some point. Gone. Fled. Fearful and in the suburbs.

Where do the poor people go who aren't sub-urban-knights? Where have all those people gone who lost their homes in the sub-prime mortgage debacles of the past few years? Are they all living with friends? Camping in the forests of national parks? Of Detroit? Filling up flea bag hotels where they pay by the month?

The pictures are instructive. I sometimes have a hard time getting my head around the notion that progress can be stopped, humanity might have to shrink back and try again somewhere else.

I know it has happened time and again; ancient ruins and lost cities, even North American ghost towns, all speak to the reality. Rivers change course, soil becomes infertile and saline, ore veins are bled dry. Or the industrial-capitalist system loses track of how to work in a certain place at a certain time for a certain group of people and once those that can get are gone the rest are left to their fate - be it barbarians or trees.

Cities decline, leave, end.

I know these things happen. But on a deeper level the concept of hundreds of thousands of urban citizens leaving and abandoning continues to astonish and exist just beyond real comprehensibility for me. An intangible, only coherent through numbers and words.

Individual stories - job loss and watching helplessly as a neighbourhood falls apart - I can understand those. But translating that into a coherent narrative that encompasses downtown blight and sprawling suburban growth is a trickier proposition.

How to solve a problem that in its size alone defies real comprehension? I dunno, but I think a bunch of people working at a comprehensible scale on a whack of projects can add up to something. Eventually. Don't forget about the trees when contemplating the forest and all that.


  1. James,

    You have quite the philosophical post. As a former Detroit-area resident, I have seen and driven by many of the "feral houses." It is rather tragic to see the state of a once-great industrial city. Literally, the northern suburbs of Detroit serve as a socio-economic, cultural and racial divide to the city of Detroit.

    I think one reason for such a disparity between Detroit and its suburbs is because of the distribution of municipal and county taxes. None of those taxes made it to the city of Detroit. All of my local taxes were spent on infrastructure within my suburb. Many of my neighbors would object to having their property taxes spent in Detroit. Their hard-earned money should be spent on local services that affect them and their children.

    In addition, in my suburb, there were certain zoning laws. This was indirect discrimination against people in the lower socio-economic class.

    Anyhow, see you in class in January. Have a Merry Christmas,


  2. Hey James,

    Check out this article.... It discusses the idea of urban revitalization in Detroit.