Detroit gets a lot of flak in the media for being a sort of ground zero of the recession: every media outlet has at one point run a story about how it's a bombed out, abandoned, lawless city and how we should all feel terrible for the poor souls doomed to live there. Thing is, East St. Louis has been doing that stuff for damn near 50 years. And now you can catch a haunting, oddly beautiful glimpse with Doors of East St. Louis...
I have a weird, unearned affinity for East St. Louis. My parents both grew up there, and to hear their stories things were already pretty bad in the '60s. I grew up just 15 miles away but in a completely different world of suburban, white bread America; and I owe my good fortune to my folks' determination to get the hell out of their hometown and find a better life. I've driven through it, both on guided tours of my parents' history with my dad and on my way to the casino parking lot to catch a MetroLink train to a hockey game. After living in Los Angeles I can honestly say I felt safer and more welcome in Compton.
But East St. Louis didn't disappear once my parents left. It continues on like a bizarre zombie city, from all outside appearances completely dead but still lurching on. When I showed my mom this site her only response was, "Glad we made it out alive." But people still work there, people still have homes there, and people are still fighting to improve their community even in the face of overwhelming odds.
It's easy to look at photos like these and feel sad, or grossed out, or just dismiss the whole place as a lost cause, another bombed out city. But I think these photos are really cool looking. They're well composed, which always helps, but in a weird way they're like extremely long exposures: underneath the graffiti or grime or decay, you can see the hints of the city that used to live there. You can see that parts of the city are still standing, almost defiantly. And I think that's really neat.