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Bankrupting Detroit’s culture

May 15, 2014

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There’s an excellent article that was recently published in the Guardian on the business campaign to turn Detroit’s history of hardship into profit.

“To an advertiser’s eye, Detroit is cool. Gritty. Tough. Resilient. Authentic in its struggle. True in its American spirit of hard, honest work, ruins and all.

“That’s where it gets uncomfortable for Detroit, The Brand. Detroit, the American phoenix rising from the economic ashes, is sitting on a valuable natural resource: street cred. This has not escaped the notice of profit-driven companies see the city’s rebirth as a chance to brand themselves and sell authenticity.”

The article is excellent at laying out this phenomena, but misses some potent opportunities to tie this phenomenon into Detroit’s broader crisis. Greg Sharzer (who wrote an excellent book that called No Local: Why Small Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World) pointed out in a Facebook post that this campaign to reframe and commodify Detroit’s history and culture is intimately tied into development and real estate, insofar as making “grit” and “authenticity” adds to the cultural and symbolic capital of a particular rental and/or property market.

This is significant for a few reasons, not only because it helps to paint a fuller parasitic processes being forced upon Detroit, but because it also reflects the inescapability of market forces, even on “the margins of capitalism.”

I’ll be writing more on this in the future both on my blog and elsewhere. But I’ll leave it here for now.