New Pioneers: Detroit

As I watched the segment on Detroit  (above), from a film on the experience of time, I couldn’t help but wonder about the scale of devastation that can be seen when cities in the U.S. implode from financial shifts. There is much land here; wide vistas of openness—canyons, prairies and deserts. The cities of the industrial age were usually built near waterways. I lived in Pittsburgh for a while and was able to observe the final imprint of the lost steel industry which I was told in its heyday turned the skies black at 3PM, from the emissions of smoke stacks at the mills which lined the river. Pittsburgh was an interesting story because the old economy of the mills was being replaced by the new economy of information, centered at the university built by Andrew Carnegie, now overseen by the military and the influence of Richard Mellon Scaife; a terrifying place underneath its shiny exterior.

It seems in the U.S. we build cities around quickly emerging technologies, getting overly enthusiastic and drawing much capital to support our interests. There is the promise of riches. And those who do not sell the hours of their labor for the effort, amass fortunes which sustain generations. During this time, as in Detroit, and to a lesser degree Pittsburgh, monuments of architecture are erected almost too quickly and too massively. And when the bottom drops from the market beneath the technology, (steel in Pittsburgh and automobiles in Detroit), it is as if the center of the buildings, whether it be office towers, schools or homes, are whisked away; as if a violent storm created a vacuum and the inhabitants were carried away while napping. And in a sense, isn’t this what happened? It may not have been a storm from the sky, but it was a storm resulting from a change in fortune. And so the earth reclaims what once seemed stable and permanent. But they were shoddy structures. They were not like the ruins of cities in the Middle East or Europe. They were not based on spiritual beliefs, or multi-generational cultural truths. They were merely exoskeletons of a market bubble, a business deal, a vehicle of exchange.

I can’t help but imagine what Silicon Valley will look like when the information age is over. How the Google campus will be reduced to spires of metal and shards of glass. A remnant of a drawn wire-frame showing the navigation through another kind of story lying strewn in a muddy puddle. Our arrogance creates these possibilities. But nature is patient. And there is always someone to reclaim the pieces and start anew—the wave of pioneers who plod along the overgrown paths left by someone else.

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