Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Everybody is talking about ruins these days. That could be a bad sign. Detroit, in particular, seems to have captured the fancy of the ruin enthusiast. Detroit has experienced a 25 percent reduction in population over the last 10 years or so. Whole areas of the city have been abandoned. You can see entire neighborhoods in ruin, skyscrapers in ruin, a vastly depopulated downtown area. Camilo José Vergara, a photographer specializing in urban decay, once suggested in the mid-1990s that large sections of downtown Detroit be turned into a “skyscraper ruins park.” It would be a testimonial to a lost age, preserved in stone and metal and glass. Today, people sometimes travel to places like Detroit and other Rust Belt locations for the sole reason of gazing upon the ruins.
There have been the dissenters, too, the people who do not take or do not want to take aesthetic pleasure in industrial and urban ruins. The phrase “ruin porn” has made its way into popular parlance. Noreen Malone wrote a piece for The New Republic this year about our love of pictures of the abandoned streets and buildings of Detroit. She argued:
These indelible pictures present an un-nuanced and static vision of Detroit. They might serve to “raise awareness” of the Rust Belt’s blight, but raising awareness is only useful if it provokes a next step, a move toward trying to fix a problem. By presenting Detroit, and other hurting cities like it, as places beyond repair, they in fact quash any such instinct.
Malone is right about one thing: Vergara’s photographs do not suggest a next step.