The Silicon Valley of the 1920s

February 23, 2009 / The transformation of Detroit is ongoing, for good or ill.

James Griffioen, in his Detroit design guide:

Detroit was like the silicon valley of the 1920s. A new industry emerged here to transform the entire world. There were jobs for everyone. There was money to throw away on art deco skyscrapers with gilded roofs. As Detroit’s auto barons poured their wealth into the city’s buildings, they created one of the greatest collections of 1920s architecture in North America. Eventually, half the population left for the suburbs. That means the city is very empty. There are a lot of vacant lots, empty houses, and even empty art deco and beaux-arts skyscrapers. At night, a great swath of our lovely skyline is dark.

And showing a reporter from Time around the city:

I drove him down the main commercial drag of the old Polish neighborhood that now looks like it never recovered from a nuclear blast. I showed him the operating automobile plant that years ago required a vibrant part of the old Polish neighborhood to be torn down, but also explained that the Chevy Volt—the plug-in electric car that represents much of Detroit’s future—would be built there.

Reading Jim, the “nothing” I know about Detroit is gradually being turned into a small “something,” about where the city has been, and where it may be going.

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