Prairie and Pavement

Ian Brown


Detroit, once the fourth largest city in the United States, has lost more than half its population over the last 50 years. The city has declared bankruptcy, unemployment is staggering, there are 80,000 abandoned houses, and emergency services have been severely compromised. The basic elements of Western urban life have become skewed and fragmented. The city has taken a swift, and hard fall, and a sense of lonely and desperate anxiety pervades the air. The natural environment has slowly reclaimed vacant swaths of former city streets, giving rise to the term “urban prairie.”

This exhibition by Toronto-based photographer Ian Brown documents Detroit’s changing urban anthropology. Through this exploration, Brown considers the city’s future possibilities: New approaches to impossible circumstances mean Detroit could be the proving grounds for new urbanism, much the way it was for the automotive industry that first built the city. Urban farming, repurposed neighbourhoods, and an entirely new model for transportation and growth are all percolating as Detroit battles to right itself and determine its future. A formidable challenge faces the city as its people labour on, living in limbo between Prairie and Pavement.