Old Detroit, New Detroit: "makers" and the Impasse of Place Change

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Cultural Geographies

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In Cruel Optimism, Lauren Berlant describes an impasse as “what it feels like to be in the middle of a shift.” This paper mobilizes that notion of impasse to critically analyze the position of Detroit’s “maker” community against the background of a rapidly changing city. Makers, who might crudely be described as small craft-manufacturers, have found themselves entangled in an emergent narrative of place transition captured by the juxtapositional monikers of “Old Detroit” and “New Detroit.” The goal of this paper is to think through what gets taken up by these Old/New representations of Detroit – and what the shift between the two feels like – as described by makers. I interpret Old and New Detroit to be unique-but-inseparable place imaginaries; they are the representational bracketing around a transitional lifeworld in which the optimism makers brought to Old Detroit has largely come unraveled in New Detroit. This unraveling, I suggest, is not only a collective melancholy associated with feelings of eroding creativity and autonomy, but also a percolating confrontation with the privileged fantasies of Old Detroit. For makers, New Detroit meant professionalization and gentrification: on one hand, the exigencies of New Detroit have occluded the creative and egalitarian form of change they envisioned for the city; on the other, it opened new financial benefits for their small businesses. The resulting impasse tasked makers with adjusting to the economic and moral uncertainties posed by still-unfolding circumstances in a changing Detroit.


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