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Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis Paperback – November 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

For much of the twentieth century, Detroit, dubbed the Motor City, was a proud symbol of the American entrepreneurial spirit and industrial primacy. In recent decades, it has become a symbol of urban decay characterized by a ravaged manufacturing base, middle-class flight, and whole neighborhoods plagued by soaring drug use and crime rates. But Binelli, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, sees signs of renewal and hope amid the supposedly barren landscape of his native city. After providing a primer in Detroit history, from French settlement in the eighteenth century to the growth and decline of the auto industry, Binelli describes what he hopes will be the seeds of renaissance. There will be no reincarnation of Henry Ford to spark a revived manufacturing center. Rather, drawn by the opportunity of starting from scratch, Detroit is attracting an eclectic mix of small-scale risk-takers, including urban planners, creative environmentalists, and various speculators, sensing opportunities for experimentation. This is an engaging and hopeful glimpse of a city struggling to reinvent itself. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookforum

Mark Binelli's excellent Detroit City Is The Place To Be is ostensibly about everyone who didn't leave Detroit behind. It's a stylish, clear-eyed, subtly absurdist panorama of the contemporary city and the people who hold it together ... But even as the author focuses on the city's present and future, he also takes stock of its fraught past—a past that stubbornly resists abandonment. —Will Boisvert --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250039231
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250039231
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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67 of 68 people found the following review helpful By E. B. on November 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Refreshingly nonpartisan and presented without the author's own ego and agenda getting muddled up in things (a flaw so common in nonfiction books that take on difficult subjects), Detroit City Is the Place to Be is simultaneously a lesson in how we got here and how we might possibly get out of here. A Detroit area native (though he now lives in New York City), Mark Binelli covers almost every angle of the problem of Detroit, including historical and current racial tensions, the explosive growth and painful contraction of the auto industry, the eroding tax base and lack of resources, the distrust of outsiders, the blight, the fires, the violent crime, the music, the ruins, the drug culture, the despair, and those small, shimmering pockets of positivity (one almost can't call them hope just yet) that while things may not have bottomed out just yet, the city really has nowhere to go but up.

Binelli weaves a comprehensive and yet somehow still comprehensible tapestry of facts, statistics, and personal stories that gives the reader the big picture of Detroit but doesn't miss the importance of the details. Even for a Michigander who has been hearing and reading about Detroit's decline for decades, there are plenty of jaw-dropping moments. In these pages we meet real Detroiters: UAW members losing hope, teen moms grasping a better life for their children, "hustlers" coming up with their own work when jobs are nonexistent, concealed pistol enthusiasts, urban prairie dwellers, guerrilla lawn mowing brigades, and many more. Whether they stick with Detroit because they can't afford to move or out of a solid sense of loyalty to their family history and their city, they are in it for the long haul and they are not (quite) ready to give up yet.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Alan F. Sewell on December 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Mark Binelli tells a well-written and engaging story of America's most maligned city. He explains his purpose in writing the book:

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For people of my generation and younger, growing up in the Detroit area meant growing up with a constant reminder of the best having ended a long time ago. We held no other concept of Detroit but as a shell of its former self. ... Would my kids one day grow up thinking the same thoughts about America as a whole, about my ponderous tales of cold war victories and dot-com booms....A malaise spreading through the rest of the country....

After I moved back to the city, people I met in dozens of different contexts described Detroit as "the Wild West." Meaning, it's basically lawless. Meaning, land is plentiful and cheap. Meaning, now, as the frontier quite literally returns to the city-- trees growing out of tops of abandoned buildings! wild pheasants circling the empty lots!-- so, too, has the metaphorical frontier, along with the notion of "frontier spirit."

...just as Greenland might be called ground zero of the broader climate crisis, Detroit feels like ground zero for ... what, exactly? The end of the American way of life? Or the beginning of something else? Either way, that is why so many divergent interests are converging here right now. Who doesn't want to see the future?
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Detroit is late to the urban revitalization party. In the early 1980s other decrepit inner cities like Baltimore and Cleveland began replacing their boarded-up crumbling downtown areas with new commercial developments and "gentrified" neighborhoods of upscale real estate. These renewing inner cities attracted prosperous African-Americans, reverse-migrating White suburbanites, and foreign immigrants.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. Smith VINE VOICE on February 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Binelli is a good writer and has produced an interesting if breezy overview of efforts to make something of Detroit.

The author, a Detroit native, moves back to the city to chronicle the people who hope to reinvigorate what is arguably America's most desperate urban area. This is not "ruin porn", as apparently people call profiles of Detroit that focus on the mayhem, arson, desolation and abandonment that have bled a once booming metropolis of over 2,000,000 people down to today's count of 700,000 inhabitants. The desolation, failures, and rotten characters are a part of the story, but they form the backdrop for a book that recounts Detroit's rise, fall and present state of hope a midst the hopelessness many feel for the city.

The reader gets early chapters on the carving out of the wilderness of the French trading post that became Detroit, its rise as an industrial center and peak as the home and production site of automobiles. The movement of autos first to the suburbs, then to the South and overseas, social unrest in a bi-racial metropolis, the 1967 riots and corrupt urban politics each acted as accelerants upon each other, fueling an unhealthy urban environment that led to the flight of whites and middle class blacks away from the metropolis. These people took with them from the city much of the entrepreneurship that can sustain jobs, the tax base and the density that every city needs to pay for basic services and infrastructure in urban areas.

For some reason Detroit's fall has been uniquely physical among American cities. Detroit residents have an inexplicable romance with fire; the number of arsons that claim buildings exceeds that of other cities by a large amount. Lately mayors have taken to demolition of large numbers of abandoned buildings.
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