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Weirdest Idea to Save Detroit Yet: Zombies

Weirdest Idea to Save Detroit Yet: Zombies
Gregory White/Wiki

About six months ago, Mark Siwak decided to save Detroit.

He didn't have millions of dollars to pump into the crumbling metropolis; what he had was a unique idea. "I thought, What do we have around here? A lot of abandoned buildings, blight, neighborhoods that are completely devastated," says the 40-year-old financial manager, who works in Detroit and lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. "I have a little interest in the zombie genre.... I thought, What can you do creatively with this land that doesn't require a massive capital investment? What can you do that embraces what we have here?"

The answer: Z World Detroit, a project to transform the city's blight through the curative power of flesh-eating zombies.

Siwak and his friends want to build a theme park in an abandoned neighborhood and throw open the doors to international zombie-survivalist fans. Siwak thinks people will pay good money to get chased around in the dead of night by a pack of undead droolers. In perhaps the weirdest revitalization scheme yet, he says the park's popularity would help attract new businesses like hotels to the struggling city.

"People just want to live for a day in a zombie apocalypse," Siwak explains. "This is the best and worst camping trip of your life."

I recently talked with this visionary capitalist to suss out the bloody details of Z World. At only $2,788 raised toward his $145,000 realization goal, the zombie destination is struggling for a shot at the big time. But Siwak sounded optimistic that people will soon be racing to Detroit to get faux-killed. Here's what he had to say, slightly edited for clarity:

You must really like zombies.

You know, I watch The Walking Dead, I've read the World War Z book.... I like the whole concept of there's a "horde." What really got me into zombies was World War Z.  It has larger, broader social ramifications: What would really happen if there was a zombie apocalypse?

What gives you the idea that people will enjoy being hunted?

Good question. Generally speaking, people a lot of times are just looking for interesting things to do. Especially when you get a bit older, you don't really have the chance to run around with friends doing something a bit crazy. I'm viewing it as an event for people to go to, something really different than what you've done in the past.... I think a lot of times when watching The Walking Dead, a lot of people would like to live in that world for just one day. How would you react, what would you do?

Where would Z World be located?

We want a good mix of buildings and cheap land and freeway access, and also a certain type of building that's not completely demolished and falling apart. In my opinion the east side is a prime area. We want 100 to 200 acres. In many other cities that might seem completely implausible, but in Detroit, there are big chunks of the city where this is viable.

So how would this park work?

The idea is taking an abandoned neighborhood and enclosing it. You enter it with your group of friends, and it'd almost be like the start of camping trip. You have to find supplies, like food and water, in different places. You find a good base where you can hole up for a while. At some point, a group of zombies comes upon you, and as you know from watching the movies the zombie horde grows.

When people are captured by zombies the game doesn't end. You're now part of the horde hunting down your friends. The goal if you're human is to make it through without dying. If you're a zombie, it's, Can you kill all the survivors?

OK. How many zombies are we talking about?

We did some calculations. It will take 20 zombies to get the game going.... There will also be "marshals" making sure the game stays on track.

Who are the zombies?

They'd be professional zombies, I guess. We're looking for people like out-of-work actors, people who are good at getting the game really going. A zombie but also a bit of an organizer. I've already had a couple guys come up to me and say, "This is fantastic, where do I sign up?" (Ed: But no laid-off auto-industry workers yet.)

And what kind of zombies are we talking about? Shuffling Night of the Living Dead creatures? Super-aggro 28 Days Later zombies?

I've thought a lot about replay value. So there might be many different kinds. One day it might be, "Here comes shuffling horde!" Or if you've watched 28 Days, they're super fast, sort of like Olympic sprinters. We can certainly mix that up.

What are the rules?

Taken from the Z World project page: "Since there will be no weapons (people are there to have a fun experience), the game play will be centered on specially designed tear-away patches. Once your patches are gone, you become a zombie and join the horde. Alternatively zombies can be eliminated if their patches are ripped off. There will be incentives to collect as many patches as possible, to hold out as long as possible, or if you’re a member of the horde, how close can you come to wiping out all of the survivors?"

Is biting allowed?

No biting. No hitting, nothing like that. That would not fall under “fun.”

How long does one admission last?

We're making it an overnight experience so it will be like, "Can you make it through the night?" Maybe 6 p.m. until noon the next day, to make it very immersive. The park will be lit to some degree, because we don't want people running around in pitch black.

Are people supposed to carry in their own gear?

Not really. There will be water and PowerBars, pretty basic provisions. If you set up a tent you'll probably have a zombie plow into it, so don't bring your fancy REI with you.

We're bouncing around the idea that once you get done with this it's not much fun to get in your car and just leave, so instead there will be a big barbeque at the end to swap stories and phone numbers. It'll be a nice tie-up. You're going to want to talk about this. And people will be starved, they've only had two PowerBars.

You really think Z World will get off the ground?

When I came up with the idea, it was almost so ludicrous I didn't want to bring it up with other people. But the more you think about it, the more plausible it becomes. After six months of serious thoughts, points and counterpoints, I give it a reasonable chance of happening.

This is Detroit. We have a lot of negatives here: I'm trying to flip one negative into a positive. I'm all for urban farming, it just doesn't happen to be my thing.

Top image of a zombie in Toronto from Gregory White. All other material courtesy of Z World Detroit on indiegogo.

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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