House, Field, Field. Field, Field, House. Abandoned House, Field, Field

From John Hartigan’s Odd Tribes:  Toward a Cultural Analysis of White People (Durham:  Duke University Press, 2005):

For all the routinized scenes that are drawn from this city to illustrate the extreme effects of deindustrialization, Detroit also provides a glimpse of the emergent social forms still grasped only clumsily in the rhetoric of social scientists.  The physical nature of slums here is being reconfigured.  The key problem is no longer overcrowding, with its correlates of ill health and rampantly spread diseases.  Rather, those who remain living in the deteriorating housing stock in the blighted zones of this city are threatened primarily by collapsing infrastructure that can no longer support its extension over residential areas that have lost more than a million people in the past forty years.  When I began fieldwork in the Briggs neighborhood, the most striking aspect was the vast expanse of green fields that dominated the landscape.  On some blocks, only one or two houses remain standing, and there are no blocks that retain all of their structures.  In this neighborhood of 0.6 square miles there are more than 450 vacant, grass-covered lots (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1990).  On summer days, the loudest sounds are from crickets, and pheasants hide in the tall grass.

Borrowing a metaphor from the corporate maneuvering that has transformed the world of work in the United States that has transformed the world of work in the United States, city ombudsman  Marie Farrell-Donaldson in March 1993 suggested that the city “began downsizing” its operations.  Because it has become too expensive for the city to provide basic services to neighborhoods that many residents have long since left, the downsizing plan call for relocating remaining residents in sparsely populated areas, preferably moving them into the seven thousand to twelve thousand vacant city-owned homes, razing whatever structures are still standing, then fencing off these zones and letting them go “back to  nature.”  The plan was dubiously received, but many Detroiters (60 percent in a Detroit Free Press poll) favored the idea as a beneficial solution to the problems arising from their increasing isolation in neighborhoods where vegetation is reclaiming sidewalks and illegal dumping is destroying streets.

Residents in these neighborhoods are ambivalent about the fields that now surround their homes, fields that symbolize the city’s inability to provide basic services that any urban dweller might expect.  In Briggs, people joked about bringing in cows to graze or running horses in the “meadows.”  Such an arrangement, they laughed, would crimp drug dealing in the area:  “You can’t sell crack to cows,” one old white man told me.  More practically though, they found numerous uses for these overgrown lots.  Large gardens of corn, tomatoes, greens, and other vegetables spread over lots that once held houses.  Another popular use is to turn empty corners into car repair sites.  Pickup trucks converted into homemade wreckers tow cars to and from these corners, as junkers are turned back into operating vehicles or are cannibalized for parts until they are sold for scrap.  These uses are an active means of countering one of the hazards that result from all this open space:  illegal dumping.  As in the city at large, the primary product dumped here is used tires.  By conservative estimates, over 2 million tires are illegally dumped in fields all across Detroit.  These piles house rats and occasional catch fire, burning and smoldering for days at a time” (172-173)

Danny Brown’s “Fields” from XXX (Fool’s Gold Records, 2011):

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