Monday, November 26, 2012

“Fabric of urban life torn apart…”

Recently, we received a really interesting book.  (Yes, another one.)  It had been recommended a couple of years ago by a student-teacher and I've had my eye on it ever since.  It’s one of those books that get my brain synapses popping but, nevertheless, will not be an easy ‘sell’.  It has no direct ties to the Alberta curriculum but I still feel has tremendous potential in the classroom.

The book -- The Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.  It’s an oversized, coffee table-type book that's filled with fascinating photographs of inner city Detroit.   The introduction provides enough context to help us understand what we are seeing as we browse through the volume.  Page after page shows derelict office buildings, factories, houses, schools, theatres that have literally gutted the once thriving city.  These abandoned buildings once showcased the promise of early 20th century America when the boom in car manufacturing resulted in people's mass migration into the city to get their bit of the pie.  Good wages from union jobs meant disposable income to buy houses and cars.  But as the social and political circumstances changed and the way the city was developed changed, life moved out to the suburbs, slowly but inexorably resulting in fewer people in the inner core.

Looking through the pages of the book there are questions and emotions to be reckoned with.

How could these buildings have just been left?  Books still line the shelves of libraries and police files litter the floor of a police station.  Schools are still filled with desks, lab equipment and student projects.  Why were things not packed up? 

Besides the big question "why, why, why?" punctuating my brain while looking at these images, I’m thinking just how sad it is.  Some of the architecture of the buildings was beautiful and  it is a shame to see their grandeur utterly forsaken.  I guess it’s a little reassuring to think that nature will reclaim urban areas as the prairie slowly takes over and deer, foxes and flocks of pheasant return. 

The photographs themselves are gripping, falling into that category of ‘terrible beauty’.  The composition, clarity and overall layout of the book effortlessly show us just how temporary, disposal and wasteful our societies are today.  (Do an image search in Google to see some of the photographs from the book.)

So, who would I recommend this book to?  Certainly, students in high school could use this in a social studies classroom.  Looking at issues of economics (boom/bust cycles with which Calgary is all too familiar), urban planning, sustainability, architecture, and historical/contemporary views of civilization can be supported by this book.  I, also think that younger students in junior high will be fascinated by these photos.  I do wonder what kids would make of these images.

Pair this with the DVD Life After People and the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman to look at the consequences of human impulses and what happens to our material culture when we are not around.

Today's Nonfiction Monday Event is over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.  Check out other children lit blogs and what they're recommending.


GatheringBooks said...

I love powerful and gripping books such as this one - with photographs/portraits that move one's sensibilities and make one think. I haven't visited Detroit yet (should include that on my to-visit list), and this book in my to-borrow-from-the-library list! :) Thanks for sharing Tammy!

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for stopping by Myra. I, too, haven't been to Detroit and not sure what it would be like to see the city like this. I know some of the buildings in the book have been torn down, a couple renovated and there are plans to redevelop part of the city. I hope you're able to find the book.

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