The independent film "Detropia" is available at the PBS website until June 17. It is co-directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. "Detropia" is a disturbing look at the troubled city of Detroit that tries to end on some hopeful notes (the people we meet are resilient, the auto industry has added some jobs, there are opportunities for artists to live and work in really cheap space). A question repeatedly raised in the film, though, is whether the tribulations of Detroit are harbingers for other parts of America. To be sure, there are echoes of Detroit, albeit on much smaller communities, in farm towns across the country. Yet Detroit is in many ways unique among American cities: its quantum growth from 1930-1960 was driven by a single industry, and today it has an unusually low percentage of college graduates (though Cleveland is close). Even so, as the poster child for the twin demons of suburban sprawl and urban poverty, Detroit's experience raises difficult questions about the sustainability of America's current lifestyle.
I have never been to Detroit. Even though I've lived my entire life (except for one summer) in the Midwest, and even though my family travels at least once a year from Iowa to Ohio, I've never had occasion to visit the Motor City. So I have no personal experience to use in placing the film's content into context. Nor is there any immediate prospect of Cedar Rapids becoming a mini-Detroit. Yet there surely there hangs a cautionary tale here from which we might learn something.