Invisible Boundaries, Missing Architecture, and Displaced Communities: Finding the Right Ground to Remember Paradise Valley in Detroit, Michigan
I am interested in the delineation of boundaries and territories in the city, and how these boundaries act as markers of presence and locations of separation. My research entails an exploration into the history of Detroit, Michigan during a time of severe racial tension. Limits and demarcations were set out in the city and followed an arbitrary pattern of streets, keeping people in or out. Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were two locations in Detroit, Michigan designated to the African American population in the first half of the twentieth century. Through the 1950s and 1960s Paradise Valley and Black Bottom witnessed massive urban renewal and redevelopment projects that destroyed their architecture, and their communities without hesitation. It was by the presence of these racial territories in Detroit that determined the building district to be destroyed. This paper will explore what is left of Paradise Valley and Black Bottom’s architectural remains, and how the residents now remember with no grave and no memorial. The coming pages of this riveting research paper entail the following; a history of Paradise Valley and Black Bottom through the first half of the twentieth century, with explanations of territory construction and protection in the urban-landscape as devised by Leslie Weisman; grass root movements and protests calling for equal rights to housing in conjunction with the Civil Rights Movement; Aldo Rossi and Mark Crinson’s notions of architecture’s role in preserving memory in the city; differences of memory and history as developed by Pierre Nora and categories of memory determined by Wulf Kansteiner; Rebecca Solnit and Catherine Ingraham’s ideas of remains or absences in architecture; and finally a plaque dedicated to Paradise Valley and the attempts to build a memorial to remember.
Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were once referred to interchangeably, however, they are actually two different neighboring sections of Detroit. According to Lars Bjorn in his book Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit 1920-1960 the name Paradise Valley became widely used in the 1930s (Lars Bjorn 2001, 39). However theaters, cabarets, and restaurants had been active in the area since the 1920s. Bjorn suspects that Detroit Tribune theatrical editor Rollo Vest was responsible for the name Paradise Valley as he facilitated “a contest to name the area, and Paradise Valley won” (Bjorn 39). Black Bottom was older than Paradise Valley and extended south from Gratiot to the Detroit River (Frank D. Rashid 2001). Paradise Valley spread north from top edge of Black Bottom at Gratiot up to the North end beyond East Grand Boulevard. Paradise Valley and its companion Black Bottom now included, sections of John R, Brush Street, Beaubien, St. Antoine, Hastings Street and Russell Street (Rashid 2001) (see Fig.1). For the purposes of this paper and to avoid confusion I will refer to both Paradise Valley and Black Bottom as Paradise Valley. Gloster Current was a resident of Paradise Valley and the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1946. He described the area as,
…a mixture of everything imaginable—including overcrowding, delinquency, and disease. It has glamour, action, religion, pathos. It has brains and organization and business…it houses social uplift organizations…(Thomas J. Sugrue 1996, 36)
Paradise Valley saw musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Cab Colloway, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Dizzy Gillespie, to name a few. The residents of Paradise Valley were able to release or ignore their distress and sadness through the swooning tunes of struggle from some of the greatest jazz and blues musicians to date. It is here, in the physical and metaphorical spaces of shared experiences, that community and territory is fortified. African American musicians, performing in clubs and bars owned by African Americans affirmed who the territory and the boundaries of Paradise Valley belonged to—this is our world and our struggle.
…one of the saddest, most impoverished, and depressing areas of the city was also a hotbed for entertainment and artistic activity, with movie-houses, and some of the first jazz clubs to come up in the north (John Gallagher 2007).
Though Paradise Valley was distinctly an African American neighborhood, conversely outside the district line of Paradise Valley was the white community. This meant that the terrain on each side of the invisible urban limits of Paradise Valley was ideologically worlds apart (see Fig.2 for an example of housing differences). However, it is not only the invisible boundary of race that divided Detroit’s urban landscape, but the unification of people from within (or outside of) the perimeters that strengthened the segregation. As Leslie K. Weisman writes,
The cognitive map or mental picture of the physical environment that each of us carries around in our head is largely dependent upon the social space we occupy…patterns of race and class segregation guarantee that children of New York City’s Harlem will not connect [with] the “uptown” Park Avenue… (Leslie K. Weisman 1992, 9-10)
Here Weisman shows how invisible boundaries and social space are defined and subsequently followed. Furthermore in Weisman’s quote one could begin to question who is being kept out and who is being kept in?
There were many grassroots movements and organizations in Paradise Valley working towards building better homes and acquiring equal rights. Through the 1940s and 1950s the African American bourgeois population was growing. In 1953 Detroit had the largest number of independently owned African American businesses, gaining surplus in markets that white business owners had previously ignored (Sugrue 189). Edward Davis opened the first black-owned car dealership in Detroit just after World War II, and made his profits in the postwar boom (Sugrue 189). Furthermore, black-owned pharmacies, savings and loans, and insurance companies flourished as white business owners continued to ignore the market within the African American population (Sugrue 189). Postwar profit for some African American business owners meant that they now had the financial means to leave the inner-city demarcations of Paradise Valley. Up until this point Paradise Valley residents had no resources to move beyond the boundary-lines of their neighborhood, but with the bleak living conditions and the financial means available, the potential act to leave the neighborhood became more feasible. Thomas Sugrue states,
…for the first time, as a city race relations official reported in 1946, black workers had ‘sufficient funds…to free themselves from the tragic overcrowding’ in inner-city Detroit (Sugrue 190).
This would mean that in a racially divided city, where the African American population lived inside the lines of Paradise Valley and the white population lived beyond the inner-city limits, that those leaving Paradise Valley would be coming into the white neighborhoods. These white neighborhoods subsequently felt threatened by the impending breach of the clearly marked racial boundaries, and worked with whatever means necessary to deliver their message that the black newcomers were unwanted and unwelcome in their neighborhoods (see Fig.3).
When we are unable to control our own territory, our identity, sense of well-being, self-esteem, and ability to function may become seriously impaired. For this reason uninvited territorial intrusions are a serious matter and can lead to strong defensive actions (Weisman 23).
Leslie Weisman’s statement above, from her essay, “The Spatial Casts System: Design for Social Inequality”, leads the discussion of breaching race territories into violent action. As I will explain further on, it was not only the white population that felt the control of their territory slipping away, but also the African American population as they lost control and ownership of their territory in the wake of urban renewal and redevelopment projects.
The Open Housing Movement ran alongside the Civil Rights movement. It began in the late 1940s and expanded into the 1950s. This housing movement desired to integrate races and to dismantle racial divisions and inequalities in residential districts (Sugrue 190). In 1948, the Coordinating Council on Human Relations (CCHR) was formed and combined the Mayor’s Interracial Committee (MIC) with many religious groups, and civil rights organizations to “persuade whites that they should support racial integration for moral and economically rational reasons…[and to] act with intelligence and courage when blacks moved in” (Sugrue 191). The conventional “wisdom” that these combined organizations were up against from the white population was that “the movement of Negroes into [the] community will inevitably cause depreciation of value” (Sugrue 191). Detroit’s Open Housing Movement looked towards other cities, like Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago, as models of “successful racial change” (Sugrue 191). The CCHR, the NAACP, the MIC, and other civil rights organizations faced individuals and groups denouncing racial integration and commented that their efforts were “hysterical championing of the primitive black minority” (Sugrue 191). While the efforts of most civil rights and integration organizations were hitting the hard and unchanging wall built on years of racism they decided to move to political action. They approached the Federal Housing Administration to allow, by law, African Americans to purchase housing in white neighborhoods. Both sides of the territorial or racially divided line were on the defensive; the African American community moving out of Paradise Valley were defending their right to leave and live in other neighborhoods, while the white population was defending the “intrusion” of the black population into their neighborhoods with their own organizations—“civic, protective and improvement associations” (Sugrue 211). These grassroots organizations were set-up by the people and offered unified voices to the people. No one was coming or going quietly, and the walls of racial segregation did not come down non-violently or non-destructively.
In the mid 1960s Detroit’s city planners promised that a cross-city highway would improve residential areas. “For the thousands of blacks who lived the path of Detroit’s first expressways, [this] promise was false” (Sugrue 47). The Chrysler Freeway was built on Hastings Street in Paradise Valley, which was “the heart of Detroit’s “Paradise Valley”…serving as its commercial spine”(Francis Grunow 2003). The blasting of the highway through the heart of Detroit’s African American community destroyed not only housing, but institutions, “from jazz clubs to the Saint Antoine branch of the YMCA” (Sugrue 47). Furthermore, the John C. Lodge Freeway cut through the Lower West Side, the Edsel Ford Freeway divided the West side in half and cut through the northern fringe of Paradise Valley (Sugrue 47) (see Fig.1). Home and business owners in Paradise Valley were given a scant thirty-day warning to vacate the area, however, they had been trapped and cornered. Even with the financial means to buy a home outside of Paradise Valley there was an underlying fear for their personal safety. Families that had previously moved out of Paradise Valley and into predominantly white neighborhoods were received with violence. In addition, their businesses were rendered worthless because they would just be torn down. A black businessman from the area described what was left behind from the freeway construction, a “no man’s land of deterioration and abandonment” (Sugrue 47).
Maud W. Cain, a widow who lived in a one-room apartment behind a storefront on Hastings Street, expressed her desperation about finding an affordable apartment when she was relocated for highway construction (Sugrue 48).
The rhetoric of urban renewal, summarized by Rebecca Solnit in After the Ruins, is defined as replacing “bad housing…with…good housing —and good was defined in those squeamish modernist terms as efficient, up-to-date, and orderly” (Rebecca Solnit 2006, 24). Urban renewal has been used as a process to face and potentially “solve” the problems within old, poor and decaying parts of the city. The practice of urban renewal, as defined in An Introduction to Urban Renewal by Michael Gibson and Michael J. Langstaff, involves,
…the displacement of an existing low-income population, creating space for more profitable office, commercial and luxury residential development or the provision of transport facilities” (Michael S. Gibson 1982, 12).
The redevelopment or rehabilitation of old city districts falls under a failed standard, whereby a standard of living is established by those with the power to do so, which then gives justification to condemn a neighborhood as being below the “standard”. The American accountability of urban renewal and state intervention is determined through a scope of economic development, an ideology that sees the success of a city reflected in its wealth. However, while focus is given to “clearing out” individuals of low-income from their neighborhoods, what is ignored is the significance of the architecture to the community that used it, now up for destruction. Urban renewal, redevelopment or rehabilitation was reinforced as a means to control and formulate the city, deny how the inhabitants utilized it, and reflect the handsome benefits of industry and modernism. The preservation of architecture and community was not a concern because newer was better, replacing “bad housing” with “good housing”. Detroit’s mayor at the time of freeway construction and the redevelopment of Paradise Valley was Albert Cobo. The Detroit Free Press quoted him in 1954 as stating:
Sure there have been some inconveniences in building our expressways and in our slum clearance programs, but in the long run more people benefit. That’s the price of progress (Sugrue 48).
This statement veiled the racism that was lashing out on the African American population through their housing and their neighborhoods, as concrete roads, and new massive buildings exploded in the middle of their world. Some African Americans had the means to move out of their over-crowded and run down neighborhood, and were beginning to break through the racial boundaries that confined them geographically. The municipal legislation at this time, which was unsupported by the African American population, (Sugrue 48) was literally cutting and dividing Paradise Valley into unmanageable, in terms of community, and unlivable quarters. On the municipal level the plan to clean up and “solve the problems” of Paradise Valley was to destroy all the buildings and rebuild clean, modern, private high-rise housing projects (Sugrue 49). Although the intentions were torebuild and redevelop, the projects would never house the residents that they displaced. Thousands of Paradise Valley residents and business owners were forced to relocated to other areas in Detroit, creating even more overcrowding and simply perpetuating the issues which redevelopment masqueraded as solving. Close to five thousand buildings, including factories, businesses, and homes were destroyed for the redevelopment projects and expressways that plowed through the once vibrant Paradise Valley (Sugrue 47). As I have stated, even though the area was overcrowded and dilapidated it was a community and an area that had come to belong to a group of people. It was a place filled with entertainment, artists, and musicians. Some say that without the blues and jazz scene in Paradise Valley there would be no Motown (Gallagher 2007). And yet this history was ignored, the people displaced and the architecture dismantled, only to be replaced by fabricated notions and structures of the future of the city.
It is without a doubt that cultures and cities will change. However, it is a problem when change comes to a community in the form of destruction and the needs of the people are ignored. It seems suspect when changerips through the streets, shakes buildings to empty its contents and is labeled re-development orrehabilitation. These forceful acts in Paradise Valley under the umbrella of re-development and re-habilitation are suspect because the ideology of these terms elicits intentions, changes and involvements that appear to begood—good-natured, in good faith, for the good of the people. Furthermore, even though power was exerted over Paradise Valley, it did not mean that the residents walked away quietly. Architecture houses and outlines the movements of people within a neighborhood or community, and to deprive a community of a piece of architecture displaces the location of the community. Rebecca Solnit writes,
…urban renewal went forward, propelled by the peculiar official belief that problems caused by poverty and racism could be cured by architecture—often architecture that would exclude the removed population… (Solnit 45).
That is to say that the destruction of architecture and the re-building of new architecture could solve social problems—replacing the bad with the good. In this case architecture has to have meaning beyond structures with roofs for sleeping, cooking, dancing, laughing or crying. Aldo Rossi argues in The Architecture of the City, that the city remembers through its buildings, and that the “preservation of old buildings is analogous with the preservation of memories in the human mind” (Mark Crinson 2005, xiii). Although urban change may be a part of history, the “succession of events constitute a city’s memory” (Crinson xiii). Mark Crinson states, inUrban Memory: History and Amnesia in the Modern City, that identity is the “sum of all the traces in the city” (Crinson xiii). This is similar to how belonging and ownership are fortified in the establishment of territory.
When we are unable to control our own territory, our identity, sense of well-being, self-esteem, and ability to function may become seriously impaired. For this reason uninvited territorial intrusions are a serious matter and can lead to strong defensive actions (Weisman 23).
The control inflicted over a community’s architecture and neighborhood through destruction also attempts to control and potentially erase their memory. Therefore, if redevelopment destroys buildings of memory within the lines of territory, identity can be threatened.
This next section considers what the destruction of architecture might mean to a vulnerable and unwanted community of people. I will explore notions of memory and history described by Pierre Nora and Wulf Kansteiner, in order to outline the investment of history and memory in an architectural surrounding. Pierre Nora suggests that modern memory, which is constructed of the archive and relies on the materiality or visibility of the trace, “reveals itself most genuinely when it shows how far we have come away from it [the past]” (Pierre Nora 1989, 17). Nora discusses the difference between memory and history, and the contents of modern memory, in Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire. He states that memory is made from living societies, that is binds societies to the present, and exists in spaces and in gestures (Nora 8-9). While history is how our “forgetful modern societies, propelled by change, organize the past”, that history is a re-construction, a representation, and is always incomplete (Nora 8-9). In today’s incredibly complex and extensive history Nora suggests that our quest for memory is perhaps a quest for our history—that the lived experiences of our modern lives and cities are less desired than the histories of those lived before our time (and most likely of our blood line). In this way our understanding of our own memories, histories, and identities are not understood as individual, subjective experiences but as recordable, factual stories. Furthermore, the desire for history in the quest for memory may come from what Nora has described as a reliance on the materiality of the archive in modern memory. This archive is propagated by “ devotional institutions”, museums, libraries, and monuments, commemorating a memory without the people to whom the memory belongs to. The “devotional institutions mark the rituals of the society without ritual” (Nora 12), that is to say that people have been removed from the ritual, the memory, and the archive. Even though not all memory can be recorded and documented the “devotional institution”, Nora suggests, claims to remember for everyone. By documenting for the materiality of an archive the physicality or loss is perpetuated in the form of a document or record—maintaining or transferring the physical. Although Nora’s modern memory is made up of materiality and distance from the event, it is the process of recording, building and documenting that transforms the history into a memory. Therefore, if we reconstruct and reformulate histories and memories in the present we are essentially changing history and making memories.
While Nora divides and defines memory and history, Wulf Kansteiner divides and defines memory into “collective memory” and “cultural memory” in “Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies”. Collective memory, as described by Kansteiner, consists of “shared representations of the past”, and cultural memory puts “emphasis on the materiality of memory” (Wulf Kansteiner 2002, 181-182). Cultural memory can also be described as being a part of an objectified culture, that is the culture of our surroundings which includes buildings, monuments, and images designed as reminders of traumatic or “historic” events. Furthermore, Kansteiner suggests that cultural memories also occur in a mode of potential memories “when representations of the past are stored in archives, libraries and museums” (Kansteiner 182). That is to say that the memories of the museum or the archive have the potential to be a collective or personal memory but will never be possessed by a individual as their own memory, but rather as an addition of knowledge, and information. The actuality of cultural memory occurs when “these representations are adopted and given new meaning in new social and historical contexts” (Kansteiner 182). Nora’s modern form of memory ascribes to a material culture or archival account of history, and Wulf Kansteiner’s cultural memory also regards a materiality. Both Nora’s modern memory and Kansteiner’s cultural memory are comprised of actions linked to the past, searching for origins or reflecting on landmark events. Nora suggests that memory reveals itself at its most genuine when it admits how far it has come from the past, particularly in relation to an objective culture that is tangled in public monument and cultural memory (Nora 17). However, the language of the monument and of materiality is similiar, and therefore, I believe that it is important to maintain this discourse of materiality in collective and cultural memory. It is through cultural memory’s objectified culture that physical and material presence of the past exists, and it is in collective memory that many people can share the same reflection in different ways.
Rebecca Solnit suggests that even after the destruction of buildings, they can still exist; the material trace of the building and the memory of the building is in the rubble and the ruin. The ruin maintains evidence of the building’s history, of its past and that it once “was”. Even though the building was destroyed there is a place, a location to remember, a materiality or archive of the building’s remains. Therefore, to remove not only the standing architecture but the ruin and the rubble is to remove all material reminders and documents of the building’s past. It is here, in the ruin and after the ruin of Paradise Valley that Catherine Ingraham’s essay “Architecture, Lament and Power”, illustrates the significance of dislocated and suspended memories in a place with no buildings or architecture. Ingraham suggests that the lament, the missing or the absent can be a place; she suggests, in reference to Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, The Tenth Elegy, that “…the sorrow of lament is not only a ‘season’ (a mood) but also a place” (Catherine Ingraham 1992, 13). Here Ingraham formulates a physical location (the place) from the emotive self into an absence, in so much that what is missing is not only the location from which it vanished but also the location I morn for it—that in sorrow, loss or absence there might be a place. Similarily, Lucy Lippard explains place as a process of memory in her book, The Lure of the Local—Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. She writes,
Most often place applies to our own “local” – entwined with personal memory, known or unknown histories, marks made in the land that provoke and evoke. Place is latitudinal and longitudinal within the map of a person’s life. It is temporal and spatial, personal and political. A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there (Lucy Lippard 1997, 7).
There are no buildings, no pieces architecture, no ruins, and no cultural archives available outside institutional doors in Paradise Valley today, except for a plaque dedicated to Paradise Valley at the corner Brush Street and East Adams Avenue. This is also the intersection of two professional sports complexes. Comerica Park is home to Detroit’s baseball team the Tigers, and the Ford Field is home to the Detroit Lions football team. This plaque commemorating the existence of Paradise Valley before redevelopment is located underneath the walkway from the Ford Field to the parking garage. It reads:
Formerly the intersection of Adams Avenue and St. Antoine Street, this site was once part of Paradise Valley, Detroit’s African American business and entertainment district. From the 1930s to the 1950s Paradise Valley bustled around the clock. Nightspots like 606 Horseshoe Lounge, Club Plantation, and Club 666 feature entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, the Ink Spots, and Sarah Vaughan. Blacks who performed elsewhere in Michigan were excluded from white hotels and stayed in the valley. Beginning in the 1940s, urban renewal projects, the construction of freeways, and new development devastated African American neighborhoods, including Paradise Valley. The valley’s last three structure located along St. Antoine Street, were demolished in 2001.
Across the street from this plaque and neighboring the Ford Field a memorial park commemorating Paradise Valley is supposed to be built. This particular location, a vacant parking lot, was “donated” by the Ford family. However, movement to complete the project is slow. As of March 2007 more money was needed, no fundraising had been done, and designs had not been finalized. Many citizens are frustrated, including Herbert Metoyer, a 71 year-old Southfield man, who contributed to a book of short stories called Paradise Valley Days (Santiago Esparza 2007). He spoke to the Detroit News, saying, “the value of it [the memorial] is apparent. They are dragging their feet. What other excuse could it be? It must have seemed only important to black folks” (Esparza 2007). There are many ways to speculate why there has been no committed motion to complete the park. However, perhaps the cause of the delay to break soil is fear: fear of not knowing how to approach and represent a loaded history and a missing neighborhood. How do you represent equally and fairly a past that has been obliterated and cast aside by racial politics through a monument? Perhaps the Paradise Valley memorial park does not need a detailed representation of the events that happened during their history, but rather a structure that can be filled with memories, a structure that comforts the community through an architectural presence in the city. The dilemma of monument building, or band-aid building, is that once something is said and remembered something else is inevitably left out. The importance I am suggesting in the establishment of a monument or memorial is, however, that there is a place, a space, and a structure that can stand in the absence of Paradise Valley.
Ralph Rugoff’s curatorial essay “Monuments for the USA: Short Term Memory” is part of an exhibition organized by the California College for the Arts (CCA) and Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, titled Monuments for the USA: Short Term Memory. This exhibition produced a catalogue that is now used as a document of monument proposals commemorating the United States of America. Rugoff illustrates the authority with which monuments speak their “vision of history as though it were an inarguable and eternal truth” (Ralph Rugoff 2005, 4). Monuments pinpoint events that have happened and proclaim that we (the public) can all agree or relate to the event as something to remember. Furthermore, the inarguable and eternal truth that the monument points to in history also denotes the fact that this history is unchanging, “monuments do not generate new understanding” (Rugoff 6). Rugoff suggests that monuments now do not pertain to the society in which we live in now, and that some have become irrelevant. The proposals presented within Monuments for the USA are interested in commemorating the past and “prompting us to pay close attention to what is happening right now” (Rugoff 6). In a way the monument must be most like architecture; and adapt to the needs of the people using it. I believe that architecture has the capacity to emulate a sensation that encompasses the past, the present and the future. That architecture can embrace delineations of time and reveal them to the spectator or user. Sergiusz Michalski states in his book, Public Monuments: Art in Political Bondage 1870-1997 that by the mid 1960s, in America, public monuments had been “rendered meaningless” (Sergiusz Michalski 1998, 172). This meaninglessness came from an over production and proliferation of monument building in the post war period. Michalski states that a new art form for monuments was needed, “monuments which tried to attain invisibility as a way of engendering reflection on the limitations of monumental imagery” (Michalski 172). This is in opposition to the public’s need for the visibility or materiality of memory in monuments.
In this final section, I want to briefly look at a memorial built by Jochen Gerz. Gerz’s 2146 Stones—Monument Against Racism, 1990-1993 (see Fig. 4) is located on the western border of Germany in Saarbrücken. According to Gerz’s personal website the project began without commission and was carried out in secret and illegally. Stones were removed from an alley and replaced in a square in front of the Saarbrücken Castle and Provincial Parliament. The stones were engraved with of the names of “Jewish cemeteries that were in use in the country before the Second World War” (Jochen Gerz 2007). The stones (one stone per cemetery) were re-laid face down and therefore the invisibility of the memorial lay at the feet of people walking on them. Eventually, Parliament got wind of Gerz’s actions, commissioned the work and renamed the square, Platz des unsichtbaren Mahnmals (The Square of the Invisible Monument) (Gerz 2007). Rugoff describes that the spectator’s inability to know on what cemetery they stand emphasizes the disconnect between the specificity of remembering and the traumatic past that the monument as a whole represents (Rugoff 9).
…as the only standing objects in the square, the visitors themselves served as surrogates for the unseen monument, and ideally as repositories for the memory of a missing culture (Rugoff 9).
In regards to Paradise Valley I want to propose a solution to the un-memorialized moment of its death. How is the memory of a neighborhood and its invisible architecture to be produced? I propose a similar underground approach that Gerz took in 2146 Stones—Monument Against Racism, an approach that absorbs the visitors into a memorial rather than excluding them from it. I also want to challenge the location proposed for the Paradise Valley memorial. I am in full support of a structure to commemorate Paradise Valley’s community and neighborhood, especially due to the indiscernible architecture and urban markings of the Valley’s fading contribution. Pardon me if I generalize the population of professional sporting event goers for a moment, but I do not believe that in-between games or at half time anyone will be rushing down to see the Paradise Valley memorial park. If anything, this location further hides the history of the area. In addition, the pathway from game complex to parking lot is through a covered and guided walkway. The immediate area surrounding the Stadiums (Ford Field and Comerica Park) does not necessarily provide an atmosphere of interest—it is a destination specific area; drive there, park, go inside, drive home. There is no street culture, no walk bys, and no cafés. Although the location was geographically a highly populated area of Paradise Valley it is not the right place for the memorial park. It needs to be in an area where the street culture is more vibrant, where people are walking, out on errands, lunch, or coffee. The racial territories and boundaries of the early twentieth century have changed, and the community of Paradise Valley has dispersed and scattered throughout Detroit. Paradise Valley needs a park where the reconstruction of architecture or sculpture is considered in detail and is commemorated in a way that reveals the past hardships but also reveals, in terms of Nora’s “genuine” modern memory, the time that has passed and the distance that is yet to be traversed.
History demands proof and in the case of urban renewal, preservation was not one of its strongest qualities but rather a history of obliteration and selection. In Dolores Hayden’s book The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History she introduces a home in Los Angeles that was destroyed in order to pave way for a parking lot—once again a building falls to rubble and ruin, and concrete smoothes over all reminders of the homes’ existence. This home belonged to Biddy Mason, and after her death her family tried many times to transform her home into a community center. Mason’s family hoped that by transforming the building to serve the community they could extend the life of the structure and potentially preserve a history of the area—an act of maintaining the physical and the archive in order to remember. However, their attempts failed and the home met its match to the parking lot powers that be. In 1989 through the strength and resilience of collective memory, a monument to commemorate the life of Biddy Mason was installed in the parking lot where her house once stood. In this way, collective memory attributed to the establishment of a material reminder, representing Biddy Mason’s home and life, back into the cultural memory bank and the history of that area. The location of Mason’s monument geographically represents where her house was but also the surrounding area is supportive enough for the monument to be utilized by passers by and foot traffic, as the monument is an extension of a local shopping center. In regards to Paradise Valley, perhaps it is time to create a space that commemorates the Valley in a new heart of Detroit, and in a location that is not hidden in the alley of sports stadiums.
The racial boundaries that once outlined Paradise Valley have been dismantled due to urban renewal and re-development projects, which forced people to venture into unwelcoming territory, territory that was not part of their social space. It is the movement and resilience of people that needs to be remembered. The absence and death of the neighborhood’s architecture should be commemorated and given a new form in a new neighborhood, reflecting the change and movement that the community has endured. Distance is needed in order to process traumatic events. The more temporal distance there is from the event the easier it becomes to talk about the trauma. The monument in this way becomes a mark of this distance, and I think Paradise Valley has gone long enough without public recognition. The goal is to remember Paradise Valley, but Paradise Valley does not exist. Therefore, the importance of location is not to rebuild in the same geography, but to rebuild in a new geography. However flawed the monument or memorial structure has been in the past, the history of Paradise Valley needs to be valorized in a structure or architectural form that occupies physical space and is incorporated into the discourse of inarguable and eternal truths (Rugoff 4).
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