Monday, December 13, 2010

This is what a collapse looks like

I've been paying a lot of attention recently to what most people are referring to as The Great Recession. An enormous amount of attention, maybe even obsessive attention. Looking at it from an historian’s point of view, I've come to believe that this isn't a mere recession, or even a Depression. This is "It". If one wished to be polite and speak in terms that won’t scare the kiddies, the current situation might be described as "a consolidation of society down into a much more compact, sustainable size." I'm not a polite person, and I do have a flair for the hyperbolic, so I think I'll use the simple and quite accurate word "collapse."

I noticed the first signs of the collapse out on the margins, out in the exurban areas where I live. In every rural county within driving distance of my home, there are a couple of "zombie" subdivisions and a couple of "zombie" strip malls, along with several others that are one anchor-store away from dying and becoming zombified. Out on the perimeter, where I live, in the places where the last four decades really didn’t happen (except for the ubiquitous satellite dishes), it's easy to see how it’s all rolling back now. One strip mall, abandoned early in the collapse, is already well on the way to being reclaimed: the parking lot is dotted with small, new pine trees. Give them five years, and they’ll grow higher than a man, hiding the ruins from the road and giving nature the privacy it prefers when it does its work. I think of Stephen King’s “langoliers” when I pass this place, and the others like it.

But another place where the collapse will become more and more obvious is deep down in the crumbling, dessicated urban core. Case in point: Detroit. Expect to see more of this …

… city officials will be faced with the tough decision whether to repurpose or outright abandon certain sections of the city, as the population has dwindled by half since 1950.

Mayor Dave Bing also recently announced that the city will offer incentives to residents to move to certain less blighted areas of town.