Progress and Preservation: the temporality of a demolition hearing in Detroit – James Macmillen
The Detroit School Series seeks to stimulate an interdisciplinary conversation on how research on Detroit - a city often seen as an extreme outlier of decline - can produce knowledge that is original and
A month into an ethnographic study of Detroit’s Planning and Development Department, a senior city planner told James Macmillen – Assistant Professor in Urban and Regional Planning and postdoctoral scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows – “James, Detroit isn’t a planning city...if some billionaire comes along with a bucket-load of cash and says: ‘I want to buy a building and knock it down,’ we’ll find a way to make it happen.” Six months later, that exact situation presented itself when a billionaire developer requested permission to demolish an old hotel at the northern edge of Detroit's downtown, spurring opposition from the city's historic preservation community. In this talk, Macmillen traces how the debate between developers, planners, appointed officials, and historic preservationists on the hotel's fate evolved. Using the framework of the anthropology of time, Macmillen recounts how participants employed temporal rhetoric in their claims and counter-claims, engaging with Detroit’s troubled past, offering alternative visions for the city's future, and setting a collision course between developer’s call for urban progress and preservationists’ appeals to memory and heritage.