Author Senses 'A Real Movement of Urban Resistance' in Detroit

July 22, 2015, 9:47 PM by  Alan Stamm

Don't judge an upcoming Detroit book by its author.

That may seem hard initially in the case of "Detour in Detroit" by Francesca Berardi, whose bio invites cheap-shot target practice:

  • She's 31, from Turin, Italy, and has a master's degree in contemporary art.
  • She has "curated multiple art projects, all focusing on the role of art in postindustrial sites."
  • She moved from Europe to Brooklyn in 2011.
  • "She visited Detroit for the first time in 2013, and started her editorial project with crowdfunding." 
  • She has a "fascination for places in a phase of strong transition."
  • She describes her publishing project as "a resident-driven guidebook to the new American frontier."
Francesca Berardi: " I have collected stories, ideas and feelings, set within what seems to be a real movement of urban resistance." (Facebook photo)

If you nearly bailed at Brooklyn, stay with this at least long enough to see what a lifelong Metro Detroiter says. Laura Berman tries to head off reflex reactions at the start of her latest Detroit News column

Francesca Berardi’s book about Detroit will almost certainly inspire knee-jerk animosity: How dare a young Italian journalist drop by for a few extended visits and then publish a 250-page book about a city she barely knows?    

Berman, who met the first-time author at a Midtown coffee shop, notes that she brings "charm, curiosity, intelligence and humility" to her "quest to understand a place on its own terms." The Detroit journalist admires the New York writer ("who combines an open heart with a keen and educated eye") and praises her for offering "insights even to those of us who have spent our lives trying to understand and appreciate this place." 

Sometimes it takes a guide from outside the place you know too well to remind you why you are here.

Thanks for sticking around and being open-minded -- just like the author, whose $25 softcover book comes out Sept, 29 from Humboldt, a travel literature publisher in Milan, Italy. (Yes, it's in English.)

The writer, accompanied by photographer Antonio Rovaldi, a 40-year-old artist who works in New York and Milan, came here six times between February 2013 and November 2014 for a total of 77 days. She raised $10,100 for the project from 102 Indiegogo donations in the fall of 2013. 

Locals she spoke with include Derrick May, Grace Lee Boggs, Leni Sinclair, John King, MoCAD curator Greg Baise, musician Yusef Shakur, artist Scott Hocking, filmmaker Geoff George, Roma Cafe owner Hector Sossi and 34 others. (Detroiters quoted are listed below.)

Titles of the 17 chapters [with our notes] include:

  • It's Like a Caterpillar Becoming a Butterfly [introduction]
  • The Old Days, Between Veal Scaloppine a la Tosca and Madonna's Fingers [Roma Cafe]
  • Warriors Come Out and Play / A Story of Cultural Resistance
  • The Third World at the Doorstep
  • The Strength and Grace-fulness of a Revolution [Grace Lee Boggs]
  • Welcome to Gilbertville
  • A City, Moving Forward
  • What's Better Than Florida Palms? Detroit Light Poles [photographer Bruce Griffin]
  • It's OK!

The $25 book comes out Sept. 29.


Here's some of what Berardi, who's reports on politics and culture for Italian media, says at her book website:

After three years living in Brooklyn, I found in Detroit what I had been looking for when I left Italy and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Space, both physical and for the imagination.

That is why it only took me two days to decide to write my first book. I raised the money needed to start the project, managed to drive an automatic car and learned how to fix a bike tire.

Over the course of two years I have collected stories, ideas and feelings, set within what seems to be a real movement of urban resistance.

I trained my eye to observe silent urban landscapes, on which huge blocks of sky and abandoned buildings impose themselves, and I realized that fear and fascination for decay quickly take second place. It has been like developing a way of seeing that is more like a way of listening, toward a world which can be complex and harsh at times, but also full of an energy that only appears when determination and potential meet.

Book excerpts 

 Introduction: From the first moment, I found something in Detroit that intrigued me and attracted me in a huge way. There was also something that scared me, and it’s still there somehow, to tell the truth. It’s a kind of landscape I wasn’t used to, and in order to really see anything I had to stop and train my gaze.

This book aims to be an invitation to look at Detroit beyond its heavily photographed ruins. They’re fascinating, without a doubt, but they’re part of a landscape in which a great deal else is happening and has happened. . . . 

It’s a long conversation with people who know Detroit well. In its uniqueness, but also its normality. We name a lot of places, but they’re internal to the stories. The map will be based on personal itineraries that emerge from our encounters. Also because mapping places in Detroit is strange, it’s like a constellation of points and trajectories that grows according to new, unwritten rules.

Guardian Building: Our first stop is in front of the Guardian Building, a spectacular Art Deco skyscraper with a granite base and orange-brick facade . . . . Geoff [George, a Detroit photographer/cinematographer] points out the two figures that flank the main entrance: one is holding a sword, the other a large key. "They represent safety and security. There was a bank here originally." Designed by Wirt C. Rowland (of the firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls), the Guardian Building was built in the 1920s as the new site of the Union Trust Bank, a banking institution that failed during the Great Depression. . . .

"Come on, let's go inside." The place has a holy appearance. The high ceilings are carved and covered in a coloful mosaic, light enters from a large window on the left, while on the right, two staircases lead to another entrance with a metal Art Deco gate that recalls that of an altar. The decorative motifs fort a cross in the middle of which a clock shines. It's impossible not to think of a crucifix.

"They call it Detroit's Cathedral of Finance," Geoff tells me. The raised lobby that extends to the right, decorated with carvings and paintings, houses a cafe and several shops. There aren't many people around, but I'm still amazed by the silence. I later found out the ceilings were designed to be soundproof, with a substratum of four inches of horsehair.   

43 interview sources and guides

Laila Alhusini, Jeff Aronoff, Fouad Ashkar, Greg Baise, Kyle Bartell, Grace Lee Boggs, Patricia Burnett, Olayami Dabls, Dominick DeBellis, Sergio De Giusti, Jon Dones, Geoffrey and Eileen Drutchas, Richard Feldman, Jason Fiedler, Emi Fontana, Geoff George, Bruce Giffin, Giorgio Gikas, Scott Hocking, Pinky Jones, Amy Kahrel, Richard Kik IV, John King, Emily and Andy Linn, Cary Loren, Ash Nowak, Derrick May, Ruben Mazzoleni, Charles Molnar, Dan Pitera, Stephanie Selvaggio, Yusef Shakur, Bruce Schwartz, Veronika Scott, Pierette Simpson, Leni Sinclair, Hector Sossi, Matthew Steiner, Jessica Swanger, Alyssa Trimmer, Cosima Werner.

Available Sept. 29:

To pre-order or be notified when the book is published, email
The U.S. price is $25, plus unspecified shipping.


. . . . This map, keyed to text pages, is "based on personal itineraries that emerge from our encounters," the author says.

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