New York Times
Digital Monuments to the Urban Past
Credit: Lowell Boileau
Detroit's shining Renaissance Center rises above the ruins of the city's industrial beginnings.
The site is filled with the physical decline of a society built on what was once a new and exciting technology -- like a glimpse at Palo Alto or Seattle in the 2040s. From the crumbling late 19th century mansions of the Brush Park neighborhood near the city's downtown, to the "factory that changed the world," Henry Ford's Model T plant, still in partial use as a warehouse, there is a definite sense -- conveyed along the circuits of the hottest technology of the moment -- that the term "modern technology" should always be viewed in a wider context.
The buildings' "pathetic decline, in comparison to the reverence with which ruins are worshipped in other places in the world, provides a picture of the attitudes of our times as well as providing the ironic twist so useful in artistic expression," says Boileau, who shies away from the tag of preservationist. "Many of them are, to me, glaring symbols of corporate greed whose abandonment has humbled a once great city and hinders its comeback. What really attracts me is their visual presence and immensity. They are simply awesome in their deliquescence and the artist inside me stands agape before them."
As is always the case with the Web, however, these digital monuments to the urban past don't stand isolated like the buildings they portray. Thousands of people visit, and they react. Most often, it's people who know the settings well -- World's Fair visitors, former factory workers, people who grew up in the shadow of the buildings in different eras.
Boileau, who receives many notes from former Detroit residents, got this one recently from a Web surfer who was entranced with the site: "I returned to my hometown a few years ago after having been gone for 15 years. Retracing my Detroit roots proved Thomas Wolfe's axiom that you can't go home again. In this case this is because home is no longer there."
Jason Chervokas & Tom Watson at email@example.com welcome your comments and suggestions.
Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company