Desolate Detroit: The Forsaken City

BY Paul Solman  January 20, 2011 at 10:19 AM EDT

In its heyday it boasted nearly two million people; the world’s premier industry (autos); the world’s most popular music (Motown); and perhaps the country’s most prosperous black middle class.

But Detroit’s population is down 50 percent; so are wages in its auto industry, which needed government largesse to keep running; Motown is the staple of Golden Oldies radio; and large swaths of downtown Detroit have descended into dereliction. While pockets of growth and refurbishment are springing up amidst what may be the cheapest urban real estate in America, more than 60,000 buildings — more than half of them once homes — lie fallow. Their former inhabitants have skipped town; their former jobs, the country.

While Detroit tries to build on its past with, as Paul discovered in Tuesday’s broadcast, GM’s electric Chevy Volt, mayor Dave Bing has begun razing the city’s unsafe and unsound buildings, a clean-up designed to bring back investment — and hopefully people.

“These homes have been deteriorated to the point where you have nothing to do but to tear them down,” Bing told American Public Media last November. “So we’re going to do to the tune of about 3,000 a year, or 10,000 for my term. But there are also a lot of homes that can be rehabbed, and then we’ve got to rebuild.”

Before the wrecking ball and bulldozers level parts of Detroit more than a century old, we thought we’d snap a few pictures and preserve the city as it is now. We’ve put them together with a few other images in a photo essay we’re calling “Desolate Detroit: The Forsaken City.”