American and international media coverage of the cultural activities by actors as Design 99, the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency and others in Detroit tends to highlight how artists makes use of the current real estate crisis, how they are attracted by easy living in $100 houses and the post-industrial spectacle of the city. Without trying to negate these qualities of Detroit, I would like to argue that there might be something more to it.
Speaking as a member of the Detroit Unreal Estate Agency, I'm curious about the lessons that can be learned from Detroit. Learning from Detroit starts I think with a re-evaluation of the urban development discourse that engineered the city, and a different understanding of what engagement with this place and its people means.
Below I drafted some of the credentials of the Unreal Estate project:
The Unreal Estate project intends to tap into the inventories of local assets and expertise in the city. In an interdisciplinary team we imagine stimulus strategies for local make-ability. As such, we don’t necessarily work against the effects of deindustrialization, suburbanization and outsourcing. Renovating the postindustrial city - along the lines of Richard Florida’s creative class – or, in turn, seeing the urban ruins as artistic opportunities is not our central motivation.
We respect that Detroit’s urban environment is still the home of many individuals and families, who ‘built’ their lives here. Align to this, it is our ambition to design or support stimulus strategies for urban transformation that lead to a resilient user-based city, which is enabling a vision on local opportunities. And, simultaneously, we intend to re-interpret and built on the value of decay, as well as, the intrusion of wildlife in the city. Decline is also creation and growth of something else if we can reframe our expectations, and offers different potential for co-existence, and strategies for urban development.
We intend to understand in artistic ways how urban engagement, as well as, urban play work under this condition. The collapse of the free market ideology creates a sense of emergency and the opportunity for a new kind of artistic agency, in which, to paraphrase Charles Esche, regional art and site-specific production are combined’, a kind of everyday life art.
Thus Unreal Estate project poses these questions:
How to intervene on the city seeking the participation of the less advantaged people? Is it possible to start urban transformation as artists avoiding the traditional patterns of gentrification and economic exploitation of symbolic values? How to imagine a new equilibrium between the city, the human communities and the natural elements (plants, water, wilderness)? How to exchange culturally between this particular (urban) situation and other places in the world?
We realize that Detroit is an important example of contemporary urban living and, potentially, a case for a hands-on study on future urban scenario’s, which are also applicable for other places in the United States and in the rest of the world.