Google Street View tells a story of Detroit’s struggles


Last night, I discovered a story how Google Street View can be used to tell the story of cities, including the agony of my home city, Detroit. I wish I had discovered this earlier, because it is a great tool to document change, despite the weirdness of Google’s spy cam on all of us, in our neighborhoods. I decided to use the time machine portal to see how the former home of my Michigan relatives fared between 2007 and 2013. So this is a very personal issue for me.

What I found was not surprising, and I had reported on this on an earlier post. What I discovered today was a more rich visual tale of the decay that really is the story of Detroit’s ills over the past six years (2007-’13). I think this kind of storytelling should be used in the face chirpy “Detroit on the rebound” news coverage that some want to promote that seeks to ignore the full story.

About a month ago, I published a blog about my reaction to seeing parts of Detroit that had fallen into disturbing decay, complete with ravaged neighborhoods, arson-torched homes, and the collapse of communities. This sparked a bit of a backlash by a group of current and former Detroit area advocates (all white, like me by the way) who rushed to Detroit’s defense and said negative storytelling ignores the “good people” and “good stories” and tales of the recovery. I then reviewed the data, and think rose-colored perspectives can be naive at best given the indicators of crime, poverty, employment, population health, and more. I do think balance is critical, but you cannot ignore what you see, particularly with tools like Google Street View, and in the work of recent documentary photographers.

This is an American story and an American tragedy, with many villains, many victims, and a still uncertain future. Recovery will take decades. Right now many people are struggling, and many people have just walked away–like my relatives did decades ago. Many in leadership positions in our country  would prefer to have our country spend tens of billions to preserve our strategic priorities in foreign lands and willfully ignore a once great city that is, by all definitions, an “African American” community that many in this country care very little about.

I talked about this with an old public health classmate of mine and how young Americans go overseas to address global issues of poverty and development. He wryly commented, maybe some new grads can work on “third world” issues in our country. I think he is right.


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