Introducing The “Water Belt”


Check out this recent column by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Brian O’Neill.

He interviews ‘burgh native Don Carter, who recently retired president of Urban Design Associates and was named director of the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

For years, Carter tells O’Neill, he has hated the term “Rust Belt.” And he’s trying to get folks to start calling …the “Water Belt.”

In place of “Sun Belt?” Try “Drought Belt.” Cities here, Carter writes, “are low-density, auto-dependent, and survive on ever diminishing supplies of borrowed water. ‘Sun Belt’ economies are driven not by diversity but by the business of growth itself, such as home building and construction, which the great recession of 2008-2009 revealed as illusory and unsustainable.” Amen brother!

Someone I knew in Lorain (Ohio) actually used to use these terms, so I think they could certainly catch on.
I personally kind of like the term “Rust Belt,” but I think a lot of the people I know use it in kind of a proud, reclaiming the word kind of way, not in a derogatory way.
What do you think? Is it futile to try to change these terms used by people and the media? Or does Don Carter have the right idea?


Filed under architecture, Art, Book review, Editorial, Good Ideas, Headline, Real Estate, regionalism, Urban Planning

5 responses to “Introducing The “Water Belt”

  1. Rebecca

    I love the term Rust Belt. I definitely embrace it and use it in a very positive way. It encompasses a lot of the history of the region. I think we should reclaim it (as has already started) instead of replacing it with Water Belt. Which is decidedly less catchy!

  2. Seth

    This is a pretty interesting question for the region, I think. I’ve done some work with a project called “From Rust Belt to Artist Belt”, and I’ve been surprised by how negative people’s reaction are to the use of the term “Rust Belt”. For me, as Rebecca noted, it encapsulates a lot of history, and it invokes this idea of the region that “built America”. But certainly I can understand why people shudder at its mention, particularly given its usage and associations in popular culture. It’s a bit like the use of the term “liberal” or even “socialist”. While I personally have positive-to-neutral associations with both terms, the characterization of these two philosophies in popular culture have made it less palatable to self-identify with either. “Progressive”, a term that lacks much of the baggage while still holding similar ideals, seems a reasonable proxy for what O’Neill is trying to do with “Water Belt”. To me, “Water Belt” and the alternate tag I hear proposed a lot (“Great Lakes Region”) lack distinctiveness and sound a bit focus group-ey to me. Don’t think I’m quite there yet; I’d rather counter people’s underlying presumptions about the Rust Belt rather than renaming it.

  3. I agree, like it or not the term “Rust Belt” is by far the most recognizable name for the region we are talking about.

    The only other great one I ever heard was “work belt”, which also brings up associations with manufacturing but with a more positive spin.

  4. I’m partial to “Rust Belt” too. I suspect liking/disliking it is often a generational issue — people who remember gleaming steel think of Rust as a bad thing, but those of us who don’t remember anything else and LIKE it here…well, Rust is just our culture.

    I always think about a story from an old episode of This American Life, where this guy transforms his Hasidic friend into an underground rock star called Curly Oxide. They came up with the name Curly Oxide because oxidation (i.e., rust) represents one thing changing into another thing. Not decay – metamorphosis!

  5. I like Christine’s Oxidation comment.

    I grew up in Buffalo before it rusted, but I still think of Rust Belt in terms of a proud badge — very much in the spirit of gays using “queer.” I think it is incredibly difficult to change these terms. Just think of “global warming,” which is really “global climate change.” Most people use the shorthand, even if it is wrong.

    On the other hand, I am definitely going to start using “Drought Belt.”

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