monolog : industry

So we've lived in Detroit for a few years, now, and one of the things I still love about it is the drive home. Frequently I'll make what suburbanites might call "wrong turns" and go through variously vacated or neglected areas. Of prime interest, specifically, are the old factories and indutrial sites. The less they've been modernized, the better, actually. Quite simply, I find them beautiful.

This brings to light a couple of contradictions. I love Detroit, and I want it to succeed again. I want the suburbs to lose population, and I want people to live in cities that actually allow for neighborhoods to be neighborhoods, and not simply places people drive their cars at the end of the day so they can ignore the space around them. I want there to be vibrant cities with active sidewalks and people sitting on porches who know at least a quarter of the people walking by. Not recognize as "that lady down the street in the house that looks like ours," but "Collette, the loopy one who never quite made it past age 18. Collette's weird, but we love her." A neighborhood, hmm?

On the other hand, if Detroit succeeds, eventually all the old factories and warehouses with the true divided lights (windows with actual, individual panes of glass), handsome brick façades, and quircky courtyards and water towers will be leveled. Razed (such an oxymoron, that word), and replaced with either nothing at all, or brand-new, cold, ugly, completely visually unredeeming, modern factories.

Don't get me wrong, I think the new Mack I Engine Plant down the street from me is great. It's good jobs, its in Detroit, it's an area that needed the help. But the old Chalmers factory was simply... more interesting than the design-by-accountant Mack I. Mack II looks bigger, but otherwise the same as Mack I, and it's right next door. (Clever names, right?) I even understand why new factories can't look nice like the old ones, and while I grant that a company makes more money with a cheap-to-build, cheap-to-operate plant, I still hate how they look.

The other contradiction is simply in the finding of beauty in things industrial. In southwest Detroit, there are the petroleum refineries and what's left of the steel foundries. While I can't say they smell very good, they look amazing. Towers and spirals of lights, twenty-foot orange and blue flames at the top, enormous stacks and ductwork as wide as a house... It's really quite breathtaking (die-hard nvironmentalists, feel free to take the double-entendre and run away), and yet I know its effect on the planet is generally negative. Granted, exhaust scrubbers and the like have improved it all over the years, but still.

It makes me wonder if people in Pittsburg have gone through this same dilemma. Perhaps I need to tour that city more, to see what's left of old industry and the aesthetic that grew from it.

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