Earlier this year, hundreds of workers drove down Detroit streets block by block, mapping out every abandoned home, decaying factory, and trash-filled vacant lot. They counted nearly 85,000 blighted parcels; just tearing the buildings down will cost $2 billion.
Thanks to an unending public appetite for ruin porn, these numbers aren’t necessarily surprising. The modern image of Detroit is of a city that’s falling apart. But it’s easy to forget how quickly things have changed. One Detroiter decided to turn to Google Street View and Bing Maps to show how blocks keep evolving in the GooBing Detroit Tumblr, with side-by-side views of the same street in different years.
"There seems to be a thought outside the city that Detroit has been this way for a long time," says Alex Alsop, who started the Tumblr. "It's just not the case. The financial crisis in Detroit was a hurricane without water. It's not over, either—the deterioration is ongoing."
Alsop started the project on the side because of his work with Loveland Technologies, a company that helped lead the city's massive blight mapping project. "We track the tens of thousands of Detroit properties that are tax foreclosed every year since the financial crisis," he says. "I wanted to see what the fate of those properties was."
Initially, he used both Google and Bing, since Google's Street View cameras had snapped pictures of the city around 2010, and Bing in 2012. Now, since Google recently released a Time Machine feature that shows photography by year, he sticks solely to Google Maps, picking the parts of the city with the highest foreclosure rates.
Even after watching the city dramatically change for several years, Alsop says he still isn't used to it. "Detroit surprises me every day," he says. "I think it'd be problematic if a city looking like this became normal or mundane. This is not normal—it should not be normal."