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The Abandoned City of Detroit

Detroit, Michigan

The study of abandonment must convene upon Detroit at one point or another. No other city in the United States has undergone such a dramatic level of population decline, abandonment, and urban decay over the past few decades.

As many of the posts under the research section of this site convey, industry in America has toppled and left behind an amazing amount of abandoned and decaying architecture. Detroit, the nation's most industrious city, reflects this in a unique way. The failing industry was met with, social, racial, and political tensions. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the city, and today the population is less than half of what it was in 1950 (For a detailed analysis of Detroit's fall, visit this page). Such a dramatic "un-densification" affected every realm of the city. Factories closed doors, jobs disappeared (to this day, Detroit has over 17% unemployment) and soon after, residents left. The middle and upper classes vanished in search of suburbs and other cities, leaving behind a massive lower class with no means to maintain a city that quickly became twice the built size it needed to be.

Today, not only is nearly half of Detroit's 138 square mile area vacant, beautiful architecture is left with no hope of use. There is simply not enough demand to sustain the amount and character of architecture. The city is a case study for methods of dealing with shrinking cities. As famous American boomtowns once existed, their counterparts exist today; cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh have all lost around 50% of their population over the past 50 years. The commonality that exists is the industrial based economy, the variable being the social adaptation to industrial decline. Detroit has fared worst in terms of this variable, and the photos here illustrate that.

Abandoned City of Detroit

Special Gallery Section: Detroit

The photo galleries below document examples of the size and scale of abandonment and decay in Detroit. These sites have been, or will be addressed in the "research" section of this site; continue reading there for more information, or continue on this page for dozens of photos. The galleries will open in new windows, and are best enjoyed maximized on your screen.

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Urban Meadows: The abandoned and demolished neighborhoods of Detroit, MI.
Detroit has over 10,000 vacant homes. The combination of prevalent abandonments and rampant arson has led the city to purchase entire blocks and raze them. An eerie landscape of urban infrastructure dividing overgrown meadows is all the remains in some neighborhoods, like the one this gallery depicts.

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Harbor Terminal Building: An abandoned, decaying harbor warehouse.
Accompanying the loss of industry was the loss for the need of shipping and receiving. Along the once busy Detroit Harbor sits this abandoned warehouse. It's a massive 10 story building with a dozen large freight elevators, provisions for refrigerated storage, etc. Once a key point of international trade, the Harbor Terminal Building now sits empty and decaying.

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Highland Park Police Precinct: An abandoned complex of municipal buildings
The city of Highland Park has had a troubled past. The enclave (it is completely surrounded by the city of Detroit) was once home to nearly 60,000 people, but it's estimated 2007 population is just 14,709. Amid financial trouble in the 1990's, the city closed the police department and relied upon Detroit for services. When the Highland Park Police Department was reinstated in 2007, this station was not utilized. It is clear the building was closed in a hurry, and never looked back upon.

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Hotel Eddystone & Park Avenue Hotel: Two adjacent abandoned and decaying towers.
The adjacent Hotel Eddystone and Park Avenue Hotel are both on the National Register of Historic Places, and both were designed by famous Detroit architect Louis Kamper. They are both abandoned with no plausible future reuse in site. The buildings sit in the middle of a series of deserted city blocks that are only used for occasional parking for events at nearby Comerica Park.

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Michigan Central Station: The worlds largest abandoned train station.
Michigan Central Station is a defining example of Detroit's urban decay. The building was built in 1913, and was the tallest railroad station in the world at 230 feet (18 stories). As air travel and auto usage overtook rail transit in the US, the usage dwindled, and the last train to use MCS was in 1988. The building has been completely unused since that date. Films such as Naqoyqatsi and Transformers have used the building as a symbol of blight and decay.

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Packard Plant: Enormous abandoned auto plant.
Packard made cars in Detroit until 1957, when this plant closed. The building itself was designed by famous architect Albert Kahn, and is one of the very first massive factories built out of reinforced concrete (a style that became the norm soon after). The complex (over 15 massive factory buildings) was built in 1909 and is one of the most dilapidated, decaying buildings in Detroit. Scrappers have ravaged the buildings, going so far as removing rebar and causing collapse. The Packard Plant has also become a hotspot for arsonists, debris in the building is set on fire on nearly a weekly basis.

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Abandoned Skyscrapers: Several skyscrapers in Detroit are abandoned.
Downtown Detroit is not immune to abandonment. It is unclear just how much vacant office space there is in the central business district, but there are at least four skyscrapers that are currently completely empty and abandoned: The Book Building, David Broderick Tower, and The Lafayette Building to name a few. Those buildings are pictured in this gallery.

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Abandoned Church: Even God is not immune to abandonment.
This church in Detroit (the name is kept anonymous on purpose) has closed its doors and the congregation has moved elsewhere. This house of God is now abandoned, and a massive, beautiful sanctuary is slowly crumbling and decaying.

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City Streetscapes: The abandoned street and cityscapes of Detroit, MI.
Similar to the "Urban Meadows" gallery above, these shots show the stark contrast between the glitzy skyline of Detroit and the abandoned neighborhoods that surround it.

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United Community Hospital: An abandoned modernist hospital.
Only a few shots of this more recent, modern hospital are in this gallery. This building is captivating because of the interesting contemporary style, as well as the fact that it barely had an existence at all; the hospital operated for only a few short years before abandoning this building abruptly. With much of the medical equipment simply turned off and left behind, this building is heavily guarded (the reason this gallery is so short).

And yet Detroit was once a vibrant place, the fourth-largest city in the country, and it lives in the hope that those days, against all logic, will somehow return. We are downtrodden, perhaps, but the most downtrodden optimists you will ever meet. We cling to our ways, no matter how provincial they seem on the coasts. We get excited about the Auto Show. We celebrate Sweetest Day. We eat Coney dogs all year and we cruise classic cars down Woodward Avenue every August and we bake punchki donuts the week before Lent. We don't talk about whether Detroit will be fixed but when Detroit will be fixed. Mitch Albom, The Courage of Detroit

Related Detroit abandonment links, and links for thought:

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