Martina GuzmÃ¡n, author and creator of the new WDET series, “The Detroit-Berlin Connection” has created an impressive body of work that proves quite useful as we look at the future of Detroit. What gets particularly engaging, is the way her work resonates given the depths that we’ve been digging just 295 miles east of Berlin in ÅÃ³dÅº, Poland– another post-industrial city in much of the same position as Detroit that we have examined for our soon-to-be released documentary film.
GuzmÃ¡n’s piece sets up a wonderful model to examine the relationship between Berlin and Detroit. She heavily examines the creative class and their ability to re-define and evolve a place along with land use and preservation. Berlin, after World War II was, for the most part, destroyed. Of the 1,500 buildings that composed the city’s beginnings, only 12 are left today. Kind of staggering. She creates substantial dialogue around the creative re-use of these structures that Detroit can learn from. In addition, her work asserts that individual artists and organizational practitioners play a significant role as the creative sector in building new industry and identity drawing on the city’s age-old ability. She discusses these issues with people on both sides of the pond to create a large body of work spanning audio clips, slideshows and videos. It can be viewed in total here.
Today, Berlin is light years ahead of Detroit having been the benefactor of governmental subsidies to substantially develop the creative sector. And while many would jump on that as a major blockade in Detroit, it simply cannot be viewed as the stumbling block to the city’s success. No government subsidy will flourish if the people themselves do not believe in the merit of it’s potential. In many ways, the policy was embraced at many levels in Berlin. The mayor coined the phrase “poor, but sexy” in describing Berlin to outsiders. They created an image, a lasting identifier, a brand– essentially the good marketing you see with companies like Apple– that literally drew people in. And they did this on the base of what was a creative culture that came from the ground– just as it does in Detroit.
So when we look to Berlin, we look back and try to take cues, but what about when we attempt to tackle re-imagination side by side with ÅÃ³dÅº, a city currently in very much so the same position as Detroit? Right now, both cities are trying to initiate strategy that articulates a robust forward vision after years of industrial decline. For ÅÃ³dÅº, Communism ended in the 90s and stripped the city of its manufacturing identity with textile production. 100 years prior the industry took a tiny village and transformed it in to one of Europe’s largest manufacturers. When trade ties with Russia were severed after communism’s demise, the industry collapsed and left unemployment, decay, sprawl, and abandonment in its wake. Today, ÅÃ³dÅº struggles in much of the same ways as Detroit– formulating progressive policy, innovatively using shells of former buildings and creating substantial commerce from the remnants of a broken industrial past.
Examining ÅÃ³dÅº and Detroit presents another chapter of sister/brother-hood, extending the lessons and framework initiated by GuzmÃ¡n with the WDET piece. What happens when information sharing right NOW becomes a crucial part of future success as opposed to looking back? What happens when we enter the battlefield with a trans-continental sibling looking to wage the same war of re-imagination? Will we stagnate together until someone else defines a new era of progression? Or, will a connection now lead to newborn policy and ideas that could help hundreds of future cities, revolutionizing the way we look at modern cities?
As we begin to wrap up production of the film looking at Detroit and ÅÃ³dÅº, we hope to be able to add some insight to this fascinating conversation.