Post-Industrial Imaginaries: Nature, Representation and Ruin in Detroit, Michigan


  • Support for this research was provided by a Trewartha Research Grant through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Geography. I would like to thank Kris Olds, Richard Schein, Anna Andrzejewski, Adam Mandelman, Chris Muellerleile, Emma Schroeder, Sigrid Peterson and three anonymous IJURR reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this article. All errors and omissions are entirely my own.


With plans underway for large-scale urban agriculture and a proliferation of representations made of the city's vacant lots, Detroit, Michigan is increasingly understood as a particularly hybrid metropolis that complicates conceptual divisions between city and nature. This article looks at representations of urban nature found in Detroit, focusing primarily on the work by photographers and journalists over the past 5 years as part of a broader discourse on Detroit's decline. By drawing from urban political ecology and critical work on nature, this article argues that representations of the city suggest an ambivalence, both popular and scholarly, about the emergent ecologies found in cities like Detroit. But, ultimately, journalists and commentators see nature in the city as a reflection of the city's absence, rather than its materiality, and so representations of Detroit reflect dominant conceptual divisions between the city and the non-human world. This article builds on work in urban political ecology and environmental history to argue that representations and discourses about nature are important in the production of just urban environments.