City in Bankruptcy – An Evening on Detroit

DSC_2919 erik talks Detropia front DSC_2908 dan on skype from far ad ftc

CITIES organized an evening on Detroit – City in Bankruptcy, during the film days of the architecture and design center in Stockholm

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Date of the activity

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Arkitektur- och designcentrum, Stockholm
CITIES organized a CITOPIA event in Stockholm on the 16th of November. We were invited to organize the last evening of the three day movie festival at the Architecture and Design Centre in Stockholm. We decided to set the spotlight on Detroit for this evening and discuss how a city possibly can go bankrupt? How does it happen? Could it happen in other places? How do Detroit planners deal with the situation? How could urban planners and architects in general work with strategies for shrinking cities? These were the questions we were seeking answers to during the evening through watching the movie Detropia and moderating a panel discussion.

The event was, to our happiness, sold out. It was nice to see how around 80 persons had decided to spend their Saturday night in Stockholm to discuss the current situation in Detroit. We kicked off the evening by screening the prize winning movie Detropia. In the movie Detropia by Heidi Ewingand Rachel Grady, intriguing photography lays a beautiful backdrop to the stories from Detroit’s people. Through these images and their voices, we are able to gain a rich view into Detroit’s struggle for transformation.

After the screening we invited the panel to the stage. Örjan Sjöberg, professor in economic geography at the Stockholm School and Erik Winquist, architect at the Testbedstudio. Örjan Sjöberg elaborated on the economic state of Detroit at the moment, whether or not the city is bankrupt or not at the moment, in a sense it surely is, but the application of bankruptcy that was recently handed in has been overruled by the state of Michigan. So the legal status is still unclear. What differs in the American law from for example the Swedish is the Chapter 9 in the Bankruptcy code that states that cities actually are able to go bankrupt. This is not legally possible in Sweden, however many of the Swedish municipalities are in deep depths (over 300 billion sek in 2012). Thus, the situation is not as different as one might think from the beginning. Detroit is neither the first nor the last city to go bankrupt in the history of America, but it is so far the biggest one.

In order to get a picture of the situation in Detroit today and the plans for the future there we then invited Dan Kinkhead, Detroit Works Project to take part in the discussion directly via link on Skype from Detroit. He has been part of making the new strategic plans for Detroit and pointed to the fact that the mayor of Detroit was one of the first to actually acknowledging that Detroit has problems. It is shrinking, and it has to deal with it. Some conflicts we touched upon in the discussion were the strategy of urban farming, which might be a strategy for change and a direction for a new identity. But at the same time, does interventions are too small to solely save Detroit and is also often a practice spurring out of necessity rather than anything. There is also a controversial strategy of densify the city core, by moving population closer to each other. Whether this will be reality or not is still to be seen.

Erik Wingquist finally, responded to the thoughts or Dan Kinkhead and his work in Detroit by bringing up his experiences from working with shrinking cities both in Germany and in Sweden. We talked about that in order to find strategies you first need to ask what really you are aiming for, maybe not all cities should grow? Maybe shrinking good be a good thing, shaping new conditions of urban life? How could we then deal with shrinking as a way of creating better urban environments?

The discussion continued into the night in the bar with music by DJ Hivistendahl. In the “black box” next to the bar you also had the opportunity to watch images by Ryan Locke portraying Detroit today, alongside info graphics from the Strategic Development Plan pointing towards Detroit’s possible future. CITIES believes that Detroit sets an interesting point of departure for discussing larger question, there are surely ways of learning from Detroit, without romanticising its decay.

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