Detroit stands out from the rest of my USA examples because it can not be described as a successful city. I include it because the case of Detroit does exemplify how a once strong and successful city can decline and how, if that decline is not addressed a city can pass the point of no return.
The ancient world is full of ruined cities, think of Palmyra, the once great city rules by queen Zenobia in the time of the Romans or the lost cities of the Incas in South America. What one does not expect to find is a twentieth century city where huge tracts have quite literally fallen into ruins.
The people who made the cars were predominantly black. All was well while the car industry boomed, but when it went into decline at the beginning of the 70’s the city declined along with it. Between the 50’s and the 80’s Detroit lost nearly a million residents. Those who stayed were predominantly black and today the cities population is 80% black. This white flight had some predictable consequences and some unpredictable consequences.
The predictable consequences are that much of the city has been thrown into ruins. Any student of Detroit must view the extraordinary website The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit  Here you will see buildings as beautiful as those in Chicago, but lying empty and in ruins. The destruction of the city has been exacerbated not just by the demise of the car industry and white flight but according to Lowell Boileau the Halloween habit of local youths to commit mindless acts of arson. This self destructive urge highlights the sense of alienation that the black community must feel.
However within these ruined streets an irrepressible spirit has triumphed. Detroit is the home of Motown, and if you visit 4th Street today you will be greeted by an eccentric mix of mainly young and wholly hip inhabitants.
As with so many places, where the architecture is strong and the economy weak the artists and colonisers move in – able to see quality and not interested in money or status.
But it would be wrong to imagine that Detroit was all in ruins. Its downtown has a host of soulless glass monstrosities. These vast commercial buildings and malls are only accessible by car – they often sit in open lots or surrounded by parking. The car rules in Detroit and so not surprisingly it has become unpleasant and unsafe to walk or cycle in the alienating city.
Even today the car manufactures, though they employ far fewer than before, are still the major employers. If cars were to go out of fashion in the USA, Detroit would cease to exist. Yes I somehow feel that despite all this the underground life of Detroit might just emerge, as the Christians did from the catacombs of ancient Rome into a ruined city – but inspired to create a brighter and more enlightened future.