Detroit’s Terribly but Beautifully Derelict High Schools
Detroit, the derelict city of abandonment, has undergone a dramatic population loss like no other city in the United States. The result is that almost 50% of Detroit’s square miles are vacant. The city architecture’s terrible but beautiful decline tells us what happens when not enough people and no financial means are able to take care of what is left.
Public buildings no longer in use are abandoned, boarded up, and secured with a security system. A game of cat and mouse between police or security and the scrappers begins. Cutting a camera wire here and a fence there, the scrappers weaken the system until it eventually fails and no more alarms are tripped. The police stop responding. At this point, the scrappers have won. With protection failing, the buildings are “harvested” for anything that can be transported and sold for a few dollars. As far as I know, more than 80 elementary and high schools have been abandoned and left to the scrappers.
During my visits, I looked at two abandoned high schools. One had a marble bathroom that got demolished for its metal screws. The wonderfully decorated 1,000-seat Cooley High School auditorium with a coffered ceiling got burned down in winter, because someone made a fire. When I visited, the auditorium’s floor was covered with thick ashes and burned chair steel bases stuck out like sad headstones. This school also had a 1931 built gymnasium, in which the name of the Detroit Cardinals is still visible among shattered glass and buckled flooring. It was in this school’s parking lot that a woman was found brutally beaten and left naked.
In another derelict high school, I visited a swimming pool located in a rather dark basement whose outlines were barely visible within the light beam of my flash light. The auditorium’s empty seats made my skin creep, as it was January and the wind blowing through the empty window frames made it look and feel like a post-nuclear apocalyptic scene. However, running a nail through my boots quickly brought me back to reality.
Despite this sad side of Detroit, many are trying to bring the Motor City and its buildings back to life. For example, where once ruined city blocks ruled, today you can find the impressive Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. Ultimately, positivity wins.
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