Heidelberg Project Arson Yet Another Blow to Struggling Detroit


The sad state of America’s economy is old news to almost everyone.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate hit 7.5% as of April this year. Most major cities are at a rate of at least 7% unemploymen,t and even when it seems that the rates are dropping, those lower statistics are usually just a result of people leaving the labor force entirely rather than landing a steady job.

Arguably the hardest hit region in the United States, Detroit has the highest rate of unemployment at 23.1%. This city is also seemingly on the fast track to bankruptcy. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder chose bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr to serve as Detroit's city manager, who has said that the city is insolvent. As opposed to bankruptcy, an insolvent city has to defer payments on certain obligations, such as pension plans, in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy entirely and not run out of cash.

Adding insult to injury, Detroit suffered another blow when part of the Heidelberg Project known as the Obstruction of Justice — or OJ for short — burnt to the ground earlier this month as a result of suspected arson, according to police.

The city has been in steady decline going back decades. The Heidelberg Project started documenting the abandonment of Detroit in 1986 when Tyree Guyton began re-purposing the growing number of discarded houses in Detroit with the help of his grandfather. Since its conception, the project has grown not only in area but in importance, being rebuilt twice after two consecutive mayors made efforts to take down what they felt was an eyesore in the community.

Guyton has always rebuilt the Heidelberg Project and in doing so serves as a testament to the strength of the city it lives in. His venture is proof that it is possible to grow from what may at first look like a lost cause.

With the extent of economic and social strife reaching an all-time high, it seems as if everything is working against this city; Detroit was once the prime example of the true American landscape, where people came to live out the American Dream. Now, as the number of abandoned homes swells to digits well into the thousands, Detroit has become the poster child of a United States in the throes of a recession.

Similar to the Heidelberg Project in the way that it documents abandoned homes in the city of Detroit is the website 100abandonedhouses.com, a project that began during the mid 1990’s. Rather than turn abandoned homes into art, photographer Kevin Bauman focuses on capturing the buildings in their raw form, after they have deteriorated, but before they are torn down.

With a positive attitude that is hopefully contagious, Guyton plans to rebuild the Heidelberg Project just as he did in the past. Setting an example for the city he lives in, Guyton’s recreation of his 27-year-old project proves that it’s possible to re-establish what has been a deprived scene full of blight to a healthy and growing neighborhood.