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Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- In August 2009, Vice published a story called "Something, something, something, Detroit: Lazy journalists love pictures of abandoned stuff," about the roving gangs of photojournalists prowling the empty city and feasting on its highly photogenic carcass. Since then, some of the worst offenders have abashedly changed their approach to covering Michigan's largest city. But most outlets are still fixated on the all-you-can-click pageview buffet that is "misery porn" of the decaying Motor City.
Last month, we traveled to Detroit with co-creator and star of the "Jackass" empire Johnny Knoxville to explore what lies gasping beneath the rubble of over-indulged industry, frighteningly embarrassing municipal mismanagement, and decades' worth of social and economic imbalance. What we found is a burgeoning class of creative young folk intent on rebuilding their communities and the city, despite being faced with a world that has already phoned in their city's obituary.
Of course, not so much has changed on Detroit's surface: empty seven-lane streets, lots of abandoned stuff, fortified mansions beside charred remnants of neighborhoods, grasslands reclaiming entire city blocks, gaudy casinos in the deep ghettos. You've heard this all before. Even the BBC has filmed its requiem for the city, and NBC's "Dateline" has infuriated Detroiters with accounts of impoverished residents barely subsisting on freshly hunted raccoon meat. It amounts to a nihilistic sensationalism tinged with brittle, gauzy vestiges of hope and breathtaking visuals.
The fact of the matter is that the situation in Detroit is daunting. The city that so successfully realized the 1950s American dream is now a visual testament to its grandiose demise. But is that really news?
We like to think that the story is better told by identifying those who remain in Detroit and those who are moving back precisely because it is challenging. We set out to give the people of Detroit a platform to tell their story. The city has become a place where enterprising classes can find the space and time to do whatever they want, cheaply and hassle-free. It's a raw space where they can create community and start rebuilding their city from the inside out.
The people we talked to were all eager to discuss the reasons they love Detroit and, just as important, their vision for it. Everyone is doing something: buying and developing land, building businesses, making music, and laying the foundation for a new Detroit with a creative scene that reminded us of East Berlin after the Wall came down.
What we found there is a DIY paradise where people hustle to survive and use an anarchic sense of creativity to make things happen. It's a city primed for innovative solutions: How does a 20th-century city transition into the 21st, divesting itself of its outmoded industrial and economic models?
It's an exciting challenge that goes hand in hand with redefining the new American dream.