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A little way out you can see the colossal wreck of the old Packard factory, a monument to the passing nature of commercial success.

Once, Packard was as well-known and renowned as its rival, Cadillac. As is so common in America, with its endless space, the corpse of this enormous building has not been demolished. Instead it has been left to decay, a dangerous wasteland of sagging roofs and jagged edges, frightening in its emptiness and silence.

You can find it, for instance, out in Dearborn, where America’s biggest Arab Muslim community is forming, in unspoken defiance of the post-September 11 belief that their way of life is incompatible with America’s.

But they seldom cross the border into Detroit, perhaps having a heightened sense of approaching danger. As you pass the city limits a blanket of gloom, neglect and cheapness descends. The businesses, where they exist, are thrift shops and pawn shops or wretched groceries where the goods are old and tired.

The revolutionary artist Diego Rivera made a pilgrimage to Detroit to paint – in a gigantic, overpowering fresco – the very spirit of frenzied, unstoppable economic ferocity, ruthless, cold and majestic.

Detroit’s original heart was crammed with some of the most exuberant and powerful buildings of the American mid-century: colossal, ornate theatres and cinemas, mighty hotels and department stores, all emphasising energy, movement, optimism and power.

General Motors, no longer the power it once was, now occupies the aggressive new Renaissance Center which stares across the river to Canada.

A monorail, that favourite toy of town planners who want to look ultra-modern, circles the riverfront zone, largely empty and going from nowhere to nowhere.

Is this how all the great cities of the mighty West will one day look?

Glowering over the main entrance to the city stands a tall and frowning structure, dark and dispiriting even in bright sunshine.

This is the abandoned Michigan Central Railroad Station, rearing up like an enormous tombstone.

Sometimes they are brutally recycled, so that you can find the sad traces of a beautiful theatre’s ornate ceiling stranded madly in a multi-storey car park.

But mostly they have just been left forlorn, the windows of their high floors sparkling misleadingly in the sun, but the grand doorways at street-level smeared with dust and firmly locked.

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