Legendary Detroit Tiger Alan Trammell made a career playing baseball at Old Tiger Stadium. But as the stadium’s demolition reached a close last week, the legendary player turned casual spectator, standing by as the stands came crashing down and the field turned to rubble.
There’s something profoundly touching about this photo. Something tragically beautiful about a man peering through the fences, saying goodbye to the structure that once defined his life. Something that is almost too moving for words. Something deeply depressing, yet surprisingly inspiring. Something debilitating, yet invigorating.
A lot of “de-” words epitomize Rust Belt decay: depopulation, decentralization, deindustrialization. Common images include abandoned homes, vacant land, and the jobless. When most of us think of cities like Detroit, we imagine an urban abyss. When many of us envision the post-industrial Midwest, we picture an urban wasteland.
Yet, in a very real sense, this photo captures urban decline better than any other image in the popular imagination could. As policymakers debate urban “shrinkage,” this is the image we need to consider. This is the scene we need to recall as our civic leaders use an army of bulldozers to plow through under-populated urban neighborhoods. This is the moment we need to remember when we debate what to do in America’s cities. This moment, this player turned spectator, captures the gravity and magnitude of urban decline. This photo sets the tone for our discussions, and study, of urban America.
The face of urban decline isn’t really a face. No, it’s an old ball player, watching his former stadium crumble to pieces. The contradictions of this photo—a former star peering through a fence, a historical landmark turned to rubble, a touching moment emerging from decay—define urban decline. The rise and fall of an American city, captured in one brief, fleeting moment. A picture almost too moving for words.