DETROIT is the poster child for urban blight in the United States, despite many attempts to overcome this negative imagery, and in some cases, a rather stark reality. It is a city which boasts a billion-dollar downtown development, ultramodern motor-manufacturing plants, some excellent museums and one of the nation’s biggest art galleries – but since the 1960s, media attention has dwelt instead on its huge tracts of urban wasteland, where for block after block there’s nothing but the occasional heavily fortified loan shop or unpleasant-looking grocery store. As of late, it is a city on the mend, and local business promoters point to the bustle around Greektown at night and the Motown Historical Museum as signs of a renaissance of sorts.

Founded in 1701 by Antoine de Mothe Cadillac, as a trading post for the French to do business with the Chippewa, Detroit was no more than a medium-sized port two hundred years later. Then Henry Ford, Ransom Eli Olds, the Chevrolets and the Dodge brothers began to build their automobile empires. Thanks to the introduction of the mass assembly line, Detroit boomed in the 1920s, but the auto barons sponsored the construction of segregated neighbourhoods and shed workers during times of low demand. Such policies created huge ghettos, resulting, in July 1967, in the bloodiest riot in the US in fifty years. More than forty people died and thirteen hundred buildings were destroyed. The inner city was left to fend for itself, while the all-important motor industry was rocked by the oil crises and Japanese competition. Today, though scarred and bruised, Detroit is not the mess some would have it, and suburban residents have started to return to the city’s festivals, theatres, clubs and restaurants.

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