As goes Motor City, so should go the world – or at least eco-activists might like to argue that. The archetypal home of American car culture, Detroit, has been decaying for years. It’s now collapsed from a city of two million to less than half of that, and in the process it has opened up dramatic possibilities for regeneration.

Photo District News has collected some glimpses of the ruins. Kevin Bauman’s Abandoned Houses , from which the above photo is taken, are akin to real estate sales photos gone wild, while Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s “Ruins of Detroit” series include some stunners, like this photo of the United Artists Theater:


These, like Timothy Fadek’s industrial ruins and Sean Hemmerle‘s Time magazine photo essay, include many that seem as if they’re right out of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Bruce Gilden’s photo-essay on Detroit Foreclosures includes a poignant soundtrack reminding us what the current economic crunch feels like to some.

The Time article that accompanies Hemmerle’s and Marchand/Meffre’s photos reports that among the ideas proposed for redevelopment of Detroit are “the reforestation of the city’s dead zones” and “the planting of large-scale networks of parks and commercial farms.” While there’s plenty of room for visionary public policy, Detroit doesn’t exactly have a long history of that kind of thing, so, if it was up to me, I would leave a lot of room for the anarchists and artists to get things going. Unfortunately, since Fifth Estate, the longest-running anglophone anarchist periodical in North America, moved out of Detroit in 2001, the local political scene seems a little less prepared for this kind of thing. Artists, however, have been busy making the urban landscape theirs.

The price for grassroots eco-regeneration is certainly right: Jennifer Lance at environmental blog Red Green & Blue reports that you can buy a foreclosed home in Detroit for $40 these days. She even volunteers to do that and to donate it to any organization that would turn it into a park, wildlife sanctuary, or urban garden. Any takers?

The kicker is that this might not even be necessary. Rather like the Chernobyl exclusion zone or the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge — formerly a toxic chemical dump — Detroit is, in places, already reverting back to nature. (Though, on Chernobyl, there has been some controversy about reports that it’s become a wildlife haven.)

Describing the city as a “Wild Kingdom,” describes whole neighborhood blocks reverting to prairie, alleys resembling hiking trails, roving packs of wild dogs, feral cats taking over entire buildings, and a resurgence of pheasants, foxes, opossums, turkeys, roosters, and raccoons, along with imported “ghetto palms” (Ailanthus altissima) spreading through the city like weeds and, by their height — sometimes reaching several stories — offering a gauge for how long particular parcels have been neglected.

More photos of Detroit reverting back to nature can be seen here and here. The Greening of Detroit is an institutional non-profit working on urban eco-regeneration, while Motor City Blog keeps tabs on interesting goings-on.