Sarah F. Cox: Imported to Detroit
This is the first in a series of guest posts on the Urbanized blog, where we invite people we like to share their views on the state of cites.
During the Super bowl, Chrysler launched a new television ad with the motto “Imported from Detroit.” The two-minute pitch features scenes of the city and residents and culminates with Eminem driving the car up to the gorgeous Fox Theatre where the words KEEP DETROIT BEAUTIFUL adorn the marquee.
In the commercial, Detroit was used to improve the image of the product, an observation I stole from a tweet from @rustwire, a defender of Rust Belt cities. If you know anything about the press that city has gotten in the last 20 years, and especially since the foreclosure crisis and auto industry bailout, you’d have to think they were crazy. Yet here is the epic tribute to Detroit pride:
If any city has had an unfair share of negative propaganda, it’s Detroit. Examples are widespread in every medium from New York Times articles, to BBC documentaries, to a recent photo essay from PBS, entitled: Desolate Detroit, the Forsaken City. While Detroit does have plenty of problems, it’s the hyperbole used to describe the issues that gets residents fired up. Lest the images of vacant houses fool you, 800,000 people still live there making it the largest city in the state of Michigan.
It’s easy to manipulate a story with images, as a recent story in Guernica pointed out by examining ruin porn, an artistic compulsion to gawk at decaying buildings. What is it about emptiness that scares America so? I have been contemplating this question a lot as I prepare a thesis on Urban Design in Detroit, a project that has allowed me to spend six weeks of the last year there.
Car commercials are their own type of propaganda; this one pushes a product with a celebrity. But subtle moves can be revolutionary. KEEP DETROIT BEAUTIFUL it says. Not “make” but “keep.” We’re still here, it says.
Detroit, in my opinion, has a terrible motto. Many would disagree with me, but I think it’s impossible to lure new residents with the words: “We hope for better things, they shall rise from the ashes.” Chrysler now offers up, “Imported from Detroit,” which is great for lifers, but I’d like to see “Imported TO Detroit,” catch on as well. I’m moving there from New York City next spring and I cannot wait.
Sarah F. Cox writes about architecture and design for Curbed, Core77, and The Architect’s Newspaper. She’s currently working on a thesis on Urban Design in Detroit to complete her MFA in Design Criticism for the School of Visual Arts. Sarah’s thesis talk will be part of the day-long D-Crit Conference, open to the public, on May 4. She is very sad that the White Stripes broke up last week.