News / USA

Blight Tourism in Detroit Grows in Popularity

Kane Farabaugh
The city of Detroit is known more for its iconic blight than the vehicles that once rolled off the floors of the now-abandoned factories that gave it the nickname “Motor City.”  But, Detroit’s decline has given rise to a new phenomenon that is growing in demand - blight tourism.

The throngs of rock music fans are now a distant memory at Detroit’s Eastown Theater.

On this cold morning, the sidewalk in front serves as a bed for the homeless.

Step inside, and the once iconic stage that hosted rock singers Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper is filled with holes.   

It now more closely resembles the aftermath of a bombing, but it's not war torn. It's the byproduct of neglect, an example of economic decline.

Photographer Jesse Welter sees beyond the decay.  He sees art.

“I can see the beauty in it, and the architecture," said Welter.

The former beauty of St. Agnes Catholic Church is pierced by crumbling columns, broken windows, and graffiti.  There hasn’t been a service here since 2006.

Inside the school next to the church are forgotten shoes, open books on abandoned desks, and hallways once filled with students now full of debris.

This is Jesse Welter’s canvas.  His camera is his paintbrush, and his artwork tells a story.

“I think they kind of tell you the history.  The past.  What it is, what it’s become," he said.

What it’s become for Welter is not just a hobby, but a part-time job as a guide through Detroit’s misery.

“I was kind of doing this on my own, and I thought why not take people with me," he said.

In 2011, Welter began inviting other photographers on his adventures through Detroit’s evaporating architectural history.   Now, he charges between $40 and $100 per person for tours of Detroit's blight.  He says much of the money goes for expenses transporting his customers.

“My van, I can take up to ten people, and it's usually full.  I’ve been to about 180 different buildings, and the tours. I’ve probably done over 300 tours," said Welter.

The popularity of Welter’s tours has increased as the number of abandoned structures has grown. Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr estimates there are 78,000 blighted structures, which are targets of vandalism and fire.  

“Right now our public safety is stressed," said Glenda Price.

Glenda Price is co-chair of the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force. It's developing a roadmap to eliminate Detroit’s blight over the next three years.

“We’re looking at all structures in the city, and all vacant land," she said.

One of the largest is the former Packard Automobile plant, which covers about 16 hectares. It's one of the most popular, and surreal, destinations on Welter’s tour.

“Once you start to see a lot of this, it doesn’t have as much of an impact anymore," said Welter.

Welter's trek through this wasteland is bittersweet, as it might be one of the last tours he offers here.  The plant has a new owner who is interested in developing the facility. Instead of an abandoned ruin, it could become, among other things, someone’s home.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs