The Rust Belt City as a Catch-all for Personal Junk

There is a not-so-fine line between constructive criticism and negativity, with the former arising from care and the latter from hate. Hate and negativity are a bear to the bull of a Rust Belt renaissance, at least in terms changing the narrative. To that end, it is perhaps this region’s history of brooding negativity that has disallowed the future because

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the present keeps being reignited by the idea of past failures.

Peeling back the layers, what does it mean to hate on Cleveland, Detroit, et al. Does “she” actually deserve it? Maybe so. In fact maybe Lake Erie and the skyline and the vacant houses and the avenues are just a nasty collection of man- and god-made form that has made us deservedly fling rancor. You know, like the city is screaming at you, and so you just can’t take it anymore…

Titled Screaming city graff Courtesy of pickup_stixx on Flickr

But probably not. If anything, a city is a result of individuals that are aggregated to form the city population. That is, a city is inextricably tied to the person, and to a person’s negativity and hate. And while a social setting or city narrative no doubt influences how a neighborhood to a family to a person turns out, we are still talking about social constructions, us—and not about Cleveland, aka “that bitch”. Yet still, it is much easier to unload what is uncomfortable about oneself onto a safe and absorbing target such as a city or a race or—in times of war—on whole countries…

In short, our cities often bear the brunt of our defense mechanisms, as what is disturbing and stuck in our unconscious is often let out in disguised form into the perception of our places. Below are some examples from the comments section of that will serve to show proof that we often make our city the reflection of what we refuse to see.


In displacement, aggression is shifted onto something that has little connection with what’s causing anger. You know, kind of like of degrading a city because you have, say, issues with authority. Example from

“If you’re innocent, you don’t hide from the police. It’s losers like you who automatically defend criminals that make Cleveland the dump that it is.”

Conformity is another defense, and it’s a boon here. In psychological terms, it means unconsciously incorporating the beliefs and thoughts of some higher entity as one’s own, which then squashes the anxiety arising with free thought. Example from

“P.S. look on the front of AOL today Cleveland is the second worst city to live in in the ENTIRE country…So keep doing the happy dance cause no one believes it”. (i)

The second half of the above comment brings us to the next defense that Greater Clevelanders love more than stuffed cabbage, and it’s called distortion—which involves the disqualifying of the positives for ad hoc reasons. Of course the list here flows endless. Here is one example from several hundred thousand:

[In response to a rather progressive Chicken and Bee Zoning meant to increase local food access from vacant land]: “Great – Cleveland can be a full-scale 3rd world city now, with chickens and pigs running around streets to the stacatto of gunfire. Cleveland and Juarez, Mexico would make good sister cities.”

Fantasy involves recreating interpersonal dynamics into a somewhat depersonalized, imaginative form. The example below implies a subconscious struggling with one’s place in the world, with the understanding that the world can be chaotic and the self is where the battles from this chaos are centered.

It’s a Mad Max World. Cleveland is the Thunderdome. [Here, the self is substituted for Cleveland before being depersonalized further through fantasy of the Thunderdome.]

Lastly, projection involves denying one’s thoughts and emotions and then ascribing them to the outside world. An example of this might be blaming another for one’s sense of failure, or in the case here: stating it was Cleveland’s fault life was lame, since leaving for greener pastures was the antidote needed to cure the malaise (Note: the comment here is littered with defenses, including denial, splitting, and idealization).

Leaving Cleveland has been one of the best decisions of my life. I’d much rather pay those kind of taxes and fees to live someplace BEAUTIFUL or CLEAN with a better infrastructure in place. I’m proud to be FROM Cleveland but I can’t ever see myself moving back…The town is dying… GET OUT!!!

Summing, the point of this is not to state the obvious—or that is filled with thick layers of brooding negativity. It is to take it one step further, and to show that it is not a thing called “Cleveland’s” fault as to why we are struggling as a community. It is ours. And the quicker we acknowledge the ulterior motives behind our civic bashing, the quicker we will achieve the only solution there is: or changing “us” through changing “I”—one acknowledged defense at a time.

(i) Humor is also a defense, this one adaptive. Thankfully, Clevelanders are good at this as evidenced by this comment in response to the post about AOL as an authority. “People still use AOL? That’s the funniest thing I have heard all day! Hopefully this comment posts okay, because my Netzero internet is kind of slow.”

–Richey Piiparinen

(A version of this appeared previously at Green City Blue Lake.)

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