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Detroit 1949 Street View
Old 01-12-2019   #1
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Detroit 1949 Street View

If you are in Detroit between now and March, there is an incredible exhibit at the main branch of the public library. It shows Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood, which was razed to build Lafayette Park.

A Knight Foundation Challenge winner spliced/collaged together hundreds of archive photographs together to show what this neighborhood looked like at street level (think of it as Google Street View sixty years earlied) right before it was razed starting in 1949 to build the Chrysler Freeway (now part of I-75) and a Mies van der Rohe-designed housing development (Lafayette Park). Black Bottom was never in great shape in the 20th century (or possibly ever) and it was the successive landing point for Germans, Italians, Greeks, people from the Middle East, and ultimately African-Americans who got shoved in there due to segregation (yes, Virginia, housing segregation happened in the North, too). Hastings Street (now the freeway service drive) was main street for the African-American community, and you can see a picture of it on the front of John Lee Hooker's "The Legendary Modern Recordings." The area also featured pretty prominently in Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex.

If you like history, this is also provides part of the dialogue on 1950s "urban renewal," which typically mowed down neighborhoods like this -- and rebuilt/resettled them with a completely different set of people. The architectural results were often beautiful; the treatment of the existing residents - who had been renters - was not.

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