A Letter from the Editor: ALIVE Issue 3

 In Culture, Feature

The best-synched traffic lights in the world are in the suburbs surrounding Detroit.

The story I’m making up is that this has been a concerted, deeply engaged effort by the home of the auto industry to prove that cars and suburban sprawl are not the problem. The rest of us are just doing it wrong.

I am on my way to meet artists Ayako Aratani and Evan Fay at their studio in Pontiac, Michigan, on the third floor of the building that was once home to the first Pontiac factory.

I’m not ready for the American story the road reveals. I travel northwest on Woodward Avenue from the Detroit River downtown—where Henry Ford started his automobile business—through gentrifying Midtown, past the grand façade of the Detroit Institute of Arts and Cadillac Place, post-industrial Hamtramck, the systematically disinvested Westside, into the inner-ring suburban enclave of Ferndale, past the sprawling estates of Bloomfield Hills and Ayako and Evan’s storied, internationally influential alma matter, Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Following the route, there are endlessly inspiring examples of industrial design, architecture, technological ingenuity, inviting town squares, stately mansions, bucolic farms, yacht-ringed lakes and verdant forests.

In the popular imagination, Detroit is a city devastated by the unstoppable forces of history—de-industrialization, globalization, the decline of American manufacturing might.

How much do these assumptions whitewash another reality: that prosperity didn’t decline due to unstoppable global forces, but rather it was intentionally shifted and relocated down the road a spell, by design, through racist policies and environmentally unsustainable practices? A quintessentially American blueprint for a phenomenon copied and pasted coast to coast.

Tiff Massey speaks truth.

Mo Neuharth teaches me a garden.

Josh Habiger builds a home—for chefs and guests alike.

Anna Zeitlin’s hats make friends.

Olayami Dabls is an alchemist.

Ayako Aratani and Evan Fay dismantle the machine.

Featured image courtesy of Attilio D’Agostino.

This story originally appeared in ALIVE Volume 18, Issue 3. The digital version is available now. You can also purchase a print copy through February 2020 at these locations.

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