Detroit’s Potential – Photo Essay


The parking lot attendant said to me, “You trying to capture the essence of Detroit?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

He scoffed, shaking his head at the empty buildings surrounding this empty parking lot in the middle of an empty downtown, at dusk.


In truth, when I see the vacant brick and stone buildings of Detroit, I see beauty rather than bankruptcy, strength rather than danger, potential rather than despair.

In these buildings I see under-utilized capacity, under-priced assets, unexplored opportunity… and not just of the Self-Storage / “Better-Call-Saul” Attorney variety…


I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in Separation-Referendum-Neverendum-Recession-era Montreal. Or maybe it’s because of all those hours spent sketching old building details, learning to appreciate the raw materials and structures of architectural ruins. One of my professors in college bought himself an entire bank — a beautiful domed stone structure in a nearly forgotten neighborhood. A brilliant move by a brilliant man… the kind of man who could see untapped potential… the kind of man who was a great teacher.


Eventually the markets catch up and these urban follies are transformed, the shifting economic winds breathing new life into them. One imagines their brick walls and timber beams inhaling money… and with each pull of fresh cash-air, their wooden floors get scoured and sanded, their crumbling interiors become coated in liquid paint and red velvet, their hallways humming and flowing with people again. At the peak of this upturn in their life cycle, they are re-crowned with designer lighting fixtures, casting just the right ambiance to highlight just enough (but not too much) of the aging patina on their facade. Meaning comes from use.


But then again, Detroit is not the same as Montreal. Detroit still has mainly one industry… and so it languishes and suffers for its extreme specialization, its non-adaptability.

Motor City (or Mordor City?), strangled by the rusty belt of highways it once spawned.


On this visit, I got to stay and work alongside a few choice, pristine city blocks in the still-beating heart of downtown.


This area has a semblance of urban life, but mainly during business day hours. A flood of suburbanites and out-of-towners — employees, contractors, and consultants — fly and roll in to town, living off the automobile manufacturing ecosystem… but even still, we all stayed off the streets.


Here I am safely ensconced in a high rise… but no, I refuse to be pigeonholed.

No, I don’t work in a particular industry.

No, I do not have a particular specialization.

No, I do not have just one topic that I write about.

No, I don’t have a fixed schedule.

..and no, I’m not here to capture the “essence” of Detroit.

I’m not from Detroit, and I’m certainly in no position to define it.

Now more than ever, Detroit can be anything it wants to be… and when it knows that and acts like that, it will soar even further than before.



About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on November 17, 2013, in Architecture, Business, Career, Inspiration, Metaphors, photography, Positivity and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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