James D. Griffioen's photos of Detroit, "the disappearing city"


All of James D. Griffioen's Detroit photos are incredibly gorgeous. Some of my favorites are of the abandoned feral houses being consumed by vegetation.


  1. This is like Alan Weisman’s book, “The World Without Us” made real. Buildings and homes gradually being consumed by nature and turned back to the earth. “Ultimately, nature always wins”.

  2. Such scenes are repeated in Cleveland and many other “rust belt” cities but, sadly, it does seem that Detroit has become the nexus of urban decay.

  3. Odd perspective on this shot– the image has been edited in the traditional way for architectural photograph to make vertical lines parallel, but it was taken too far so the top flares out. That keystone effect makes it look like the building is falling down on the right, but I don’t think it is.

  4. Much like California has been the vanguard for the rest of the country since 1950, Detroit now leads the trend for rust belt cities. Certainly the loss of so many beautiful houses is lamentable, but on the other hand, as the structures are cleared away the prairie is returning. Only now the prairie has utility infrastructure underneath.

  5. These make me sad because these old houses were hand-built by real craftsmen, and they are often one of a kind. Literally, they don’t make them like that anymore. To see them discarded and rotting is just sad beyond words. They cannot be replaced by the cheap plywood houses that they slap together in a couple weeks now. They are something special lost forever. Something in my heart wants to save them, but I know in my head that they are already lost even though their bones are still standing.

  6. Quote –

    That keystone effect makes it look like the building is falling down on the right, but I don’t think it is.

    It is though. I’m from Detroit, I’ve seen a lot of this kind of decay. It’s like these old structures are melting.

  7. Visions of a post-Apocalyptic world.

    Right out of all the Cold War fantasies I grew up with. And all it took was an econolypse.

  8. What a bizarre feeling. I know some of the places in the photographs, I have walked/driven past them. To hear people talk about the decay of Detroit in terms of “ugly beautiful” is probably akin to hearing people talk about you at your funeral when they think you’re dead but you can still hear them.

    Enconolypse entrepreneurs should eventually turn a tidy profit on the commodification of discontent in Detroit. Just please don’t turn the city into a hipster hangout.

  9. Also see ‘Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.’

    Look at Google maps sometime, too. Go to Windsor, Canada and look at the patterns of the city. THEN, go, like, a mile south to Detroit just outside of downtown. There are entire blocks with only 1 or 2 houses on them and the rest is all nature reclaiming the city or garden plots or junkyards.

    I just finished reading “Julian Comstock” and it has that feel to it.

    I actually love Detroit. I FLEW there specifically to take photos and talk to city planners to prepare a graduate school presentation about it. I walked around the vacant highrises imaging the kind of bustling place it would have been in the 40s and 50s. Blew everyone away…

  10. That’s the Scott Mansion at Cass and Peterboro in the article’s pic (#3 in the series). He was said a be a pretty huge bastard. Word is he built up part of his house to blot out the sun over the neighbor’s yard to shut up the kids who’d play there. When he died, he left the city a sizable chunk of money, which sat unused for years just because they didn’t want to have to name anything after him. But eventually Belle Isle needed a fountain, the birds needed a statue of someone to shit on, and I needed somewhere to take dates.

  11. Fascinating stuff..I took the suggestions and used google earth to fly back and forth between Windsor and Detroit.
    Maybe the auto industry could have taken some tips from the swimming pool salesmen in Windsor. The Canadian landscape is covered with pools, in a land where they can be used for 3, maybe 4 months of the year?
    I guess they sold a lot of sizzle.
    Checking out the MLS listings in Detroit is illuminating as well, with some homes selling as cheap as $7000.00 ..but current taxes of $3000.00
    I imagine your taxes will go up the moment you put hammer to nail.
    In the neighbourhood info provided, almost every area of crime is anywhere from 2 to 6 times the national average, with your chances of murder topping the averages. You might have a safer time living in Darfur.
    Perhaps the way to improve safety is to follow the example of Central America, and have the front of your house be a 15 ft high wall at the front of the lot with a small doorway for access. This opens you into a walled courtyard where you can be assessed further.

  12. #3 & #6 – Methinks you give boing boing too much credit – this was on NPR 2 days ago.

  13. “Feral houses” sound terrifying. Much like the feral streets China Mieville wrote about – that move around and occasionally eat the people that walk down them.

  14. I hope originals look better than these reproductions, they look like camera-phone snaps.

  15. Great words “Feral Houses”. Makes me think of old Victorians roaming around on steampipe legs feeding on inbred suburban houses that can’t get away.


  16. Those vintage houses are lovely. I’ve bought one in Richmond, Indiana (for $8000! 14 rooms! apartment in the carriage house!) and am doing my best not to let it molder like Detroit. They’re built like … well, I guess I should mention that I now have a brick outhouse.

    Seriously, they’re solid in a way that anything built post-WWII simply isn’t. Case in point: the apartment in my carriage house. It was inhabited for a few years by a guy with a neurological disorder who – well, OK, I did have to replace all the windows, made somewhat easier by the fact that he removed the glass for me by means of throwing things through it. But everything else has simply withstood all the punishment he could dish out. I’ve cleaned it up (no small task) and it’s just rock solid.

    It’s really a liberating feeling. I can mop the walls (don’t ask) and the walls don’t fall apart. I could do anything a normal person could do to this structure, and it would still be a house afterwards. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never lived in such a well-built house; drywall can’t take that kind of treatment. Hell, a drywall house, with this guy, would have had gaping holes in the walls – but plaster over a foot of brick? Didn’t even notice him.

    And this is just the carriage house. It was built cheaper than the main house.

    Every one of those moldering houses in Detroit should be considered a national treasure, and it kills me that they’re just left to die. America in a nutshell. We have plenty of money for another mall or big-box store or McDonald’s, but quality? No, not for us.

  17. Growing up in Detroit (a long time ago), and struggling through the failing public schools, I can’t seem to muster zingy, clever, or ironic comments about this travesty. Look at that house. Imagine the kids (like I was) living in this neighborhood. Imagine the state of a public school in that neighborhood full of rotting shells, open holes, and rampant crime. There’s not much to laugh at.

    I got out. My siblings got out. My mom finally got out a few years ago after muggings, car thefts etc. But we were the lucky ones. The large scale political and economic machinations of that city and its leadership are a case study in corruption and greed.

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