For the past century, Detroit’s Cass Corridor was one of the roughest areas in the city. Known as a center of drugs and prostitution, this former red-light district was alternatively known as “Fire Alley,” an acknowledgment of its status as the arson capital of Michigan. In 1963, the city’s final incarnation of Chinatown was established in the Corridor, but by the end of the 1980s that particular enclave came to its demise. The Cass Corridor is experiencing a complete overhaul, as one of the largest sports developments in the country engulfs the area.
Beginning with an observational view of current-day residents, some who have lived in the area for most of their lives, Last Days of Chinatown is a deft and engrossing meditation on the history, present, and future of the area. With half the neighborhood burned or demolished, the film documents who and what remains in the long beleaguered Corridor. We hear their stories of survival, and learn how and why longtime residents are being forced to the margins of the city as rampant development redefines the area.
Last Days of Chinatown then illustrates in gripping detail the process by which the Cass Corridor has been bought up during a years-long scheme to build a 45-block wide sports-entertainment complex. As new businesses and residents move in, and Detroit’s corporate welfare for billionaires Dan Gilbert and Mike Ilitch becomes more apparent, many begin to question just who all of the new investment is intended to benefit.
Long home to the poor and disenfranchised as well as to the artists and visionaries of the city, the area has now been rebranded as “Midtown.” Last Days of Chinatown chronicles an emblematic example of the nationwide trend of urban gentrification and shows how it can be possible to erase a place, as well as its people and history, as another is constructed over its remains.