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The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit


Publication Year: 2012

Intense attention has been paid to Detroit as a site of urban crisis. This crisis, however, has not only yielded the massive devaluation of real estate that has so often been noted; it has also yielded an explosive production of seemingly valueless urban property that has facilitated the imagination and practice of alternative urbanisms. The first sustained study of Detroit’s alternative urban cultures, The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit initiates a new focus on Detroit as a site not only of urban crisis but also of urban possibility. The Guide documents art and curatorial practices, community and guerilla gardens, urban farming and forestry, cultural platforms, living archives, evangelical missions, temporary public spaces, intentional communities, furtive monuments, outsider architecture, and other work made possible by the ready availability of urban space in Detroit. The Guide poses these spaces as “unreal estate”: urban territory that has slipped through the free- market economy and entered other regimes of value, other contexts of meaning, and other systems of use. The appropriation of this territory in Detroit, the Guide suggests, offers new perspectives on what a city is and can be, especially in a time of urban crisis.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-6


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pp. 7-10

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The Detroit Unreal Estate Agency: A Preface

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pp. 2-5

The Detroit Unreal Estate Agency was founded in 2008 as an open-access platform for research on urban crisis, using Detroit as a focal point. Against the apprehension of Detroit as a problem that needs to be solved, the Agency has regarded Detroit as a site where new ways of imagining, inhabiting and constructing the contemporary...

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Unreal Estate: An Introduction

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pp. 6-21

And so, to most observers, and more than a few residents, what’s there in Detroit is what’s no longer there. Theirs is a city characterized by loss: of population, property values, jobs, infrastructure, investment, security, urbanity itself. What results is vacancy, absence, emptiness, catastrophe and ruin. These are conditions of...

Unprofessional Practices

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pp. 22-33

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Ruin Harvest

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pp. 25-38

In the winter of 2005, Detroit’s municipal government prepared to host the Super Bowl by ramping up its demolition of abandoned houses and thereby “beautify” the city. At the same time, a series of abandoned houses in Detroit were painted bright orange. In a communiqué sent to the online site...

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Food Infill

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pp. 39-64

The Earthworks Urban Farm is one of the largest urban agriculture initiatives in Detroit. It emerged from an intersection of two conditions: first, the desire of Capuchin friars and associated volunteers to feed and otherwise assist needy residents in Detroit’s impoverished Eastside, and second...

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Municipal Therapy

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pp. 65-86

The Motor City Blight Busters is a non-profit organization in Northwest Detroit dedicated to “stabilizing and revitalizing neighborhoods.” It defines the beneficiary of this project as “the community,” an entity with complex and at times contradictory relations to reigning political and economic structures. One...

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Furtive Inhabitation

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pp. 87-103

The Detroit Blues are one among the groups that explore abandoned buildings (“urban spelunking,” “urbexing”) in Detroit. In the group’s self-scripted history, its first trip was to the Statler Hotel, where its members pretended to play blues on the stage of the abandoned hotel’s ballroom and then decided...

Unwarranted Techniques

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pp. 104-115

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Feral Research

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pp. 107-116

text goes here Feral Research Detroit Geographical Expedition In 1968, radical Detroit geographer William Bunge founded the Detroit Geographical Expedition. The Expedition was a platform to produce a new sort of spatial knowledge—neither disciplinary nor professional knowledge, but knowledge that could serve as a resource for Detroit and, most especially, for the city’s...

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Waste Curation

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pp. 117-130

The Tree of Heaven Woodshop was founded by Mitch Cope, Ingo Vetter and Annette Weisser as a collective of artists, craftspeople and researchers who work with wood from the Ailanthus altissima, or “tree of heaven,” the English translation of the tree’s Chinese name. The “tree of heaven” is a rapidly...

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Public Secrecy

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pp. 131-144

The Hygienic Dress League is a corporation that creates nothing but its own corporate image. It therefore uses videos, fashion shoots, branding and advertising not as means to the end of selling products or services but as reflexive artistic works. Recognizable as advertising, albeit of an enigmatic variety...

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Radical Hospitality

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pp. 145-157

The Boggs Center was founded by friends and colleagues of Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs, prominent community activists in Detroit, as a place to ”honor and continue their legacy as movement activists and theoreticians.” The Center is located at the Boggs home on the Eastside of Detroit. This location...

Unsanctioned Collectives

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pp. 158-169

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Temporary Communities

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pp. 161-182

The Dally in the Alley is an annual community fair held in alleys, backyards and streets in the North Cass neighborhood in Detroit. The event began in 1977 as an inner-city art fair; it has subsequently evolved into a means to temporarily re-program disused and underused urban space and to leverage...

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pp. 183-192

The UFO Factory was a self-described “art/design and sound production company, recording studio, art gallery, nite klub, etc…” The three members of the UFO Factory, Davin Brainard, Dion Fischer and Warn Defever, originally met in the late 1990s at Zoot’s Coffee House, in the Cass Corridor. Zoot’s...

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pp. 193-206

In the mid 1980s, Paul Weertz, a science teacher at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, bought a number of houses on a single block of Farnsworth Street, on Detroit’s depopulated and decaying Eastside. Weertz renovated one house for his family and rented out other houses on the block. He also began...

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Urban Toeholds

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pp. 207-219

The Center for Creative eXchange was envisioned by its founder, Phaedra Robinson, as a conduit for “creative energy” to flow into and out of Detroit. The physical location of the center was a burned-out house in the Woodbridge neighborhood, purchased by Robinson from the City of Detroit. The house was to...

Unsolicited Constructions

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pp. 220-231

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Accidental Architecture

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pp. 223-236

The Michigan Building was opened in 1925 in downtown Detroit. It originally contained a block of offices and the “French Renaissance” style Michigan Theatre. The Michigan Theatre contained a large auditorium with over 4,000 seats, an intricately detailed proscenium, mezzanine, roof, balconies and...

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Extreme Housework

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pp. 237-250

The Detroit Industrial Gallery is a housban art work in the midst of the Heidelberg Project. Its creator, the artist Tim Burke, purchased a piece of property on the Heidelberg Project’s block and then repurposed an existing house as a work of art. Greatly indebted to the Heidelberg Project, Burke collects...

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Scavenged Space

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pp. 251-272

Alley Culture is a gallery in a converted garage behind a house in the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit. The gallery displays works by contemporary artists on exposed wood-frame walls, with visitors kept warm in the winter by a wood-burning stove. The hidden urban setting and unfinished architectural...

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Patrimony of the Unlost

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pp. 273-289

In 1990, a Ukranian emigrant and retired General Motors autoworker named Dmytro Szylak began to scavenge abandoned objects from the streets of Hamtramck and to assemble those objects on and around two garages he owned. The objects he assembled were the detritus of middle-class American popular...


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pp. 290-295


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pp. 296-303

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pp. 305-315

The development of this book would have been both unthinkable and impossible without the thoughts and ideas that many people in and around Detroit graciously shared with me. I am particularly grateful for conversations with KT Andresky, Mike Banks, Annemarie van den Berg, Grace Lee Boggs, Steve Coy...

Image Credits

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pp. 307-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029174
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472035212

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012