The US city of Detroit had a population in the region of 1.8 million in the 1950s but automation and the flight of big business, particularly in the automotive industry, led to massive redundancies, foreclosures and the displacement of millions. The population now stands at less than 700,000, the lowest it has been for a century. In the midst of this neo-liberal catastrophe and the associated withdrawal of public services, residents have banded together to create their own solutions including food networks, community safety patrols, free schools and neighbourhood housing projects. However, these pioneering Detroiters are faced with an onslaught of further privatisation, dissolution of democratic control of local government, the removal collective bargaining and raids on pension funds. These competing models of the ‘future city’ will have ramifications not just in the US but worldwide.
Sarah Coffey, a longtime Detroit resident, community organiser and a co-founder of the Midnight Special Law Collective has been closely involved with autonomous communities in the city.