Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus is the official motto of Detroit meaning “We Hope for Better Things; It Shall Rise from the Ashes.” Adopted after the city of Detroit burned to the ground in 1805, Detroiters today are embracing these words and the city’s potential for and successful history of rebuilding and rebranding. ‘Detropia,’ the film by metro Detroit native Heidi Ewing and Loki Films production partner Rachel Grady, takes a look at the daily lives of several Detroiters, highlighting struggles and this hope for better things. Trends in Detroit’s recent revitalization movement, like the rise in popularity of urban farming and the notable influx of young, white, creative types, are touched upon in the film.
While the title of the documentary can be assumed to be a combination of the words “Detroit” and “utopia” it may be unclear to some viewers that what is presented is a utopic view of Detroit. While the “hope for better things” mentioned previously is personified by work being done by locals and mention of the recovery of the auto industry, even these aspects of the film aren’t all that promising. Without a decisive answer to the question, “What went wrong with Detroit?” the film leaves urban planners interested in the city without a place to start answering the question of how to move forward.
Ewing and Grady’s film may provide a starting point for citizens nationwide to start a conversation about Detroit, especially with its availability on television streaming websites and recent airtime on PBS. However, it can be argued that there are definite positive and more utopic aspects of Detroit’s citizenry that could have been highlighted: where are the grassroots activists, educators, and organizations? These can be presented, without ignoring the problems present, and without undue emphasis on more controversial topics like reliance on the automobile industry.
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Credits: Data linked to sources. Images by Meg Mulhall.