Category Archives: regionalism

15 Scenic Cities of the Rust Belt

No one can deny the awe-inspiring scenic beauty of Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, or Salt Lake City. But, often overlooked are the splendid topographic and geographic settings where a number of Rust Belt cities are situated. Beautiful city settings of the Rust Belt  may not get the national notoriety and ink of their western competitors, but some are equally endowed with great scenery. Here’s a list of 15 Rust Belt cities that I feel are a visual delight:

Duluth - Source:

Duluth-Superior, Minnesota/Wisconsin – the view of the city, harbor, and Lake Superior from Interstate 35 as it crests over the top of Spirit Mountain is simply magnificent. Throw in some alpine skiing within sight of the downtown skyline and you’ve got something very, very  special. If Duluth were situated on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts, it would be the legendary subject of artists worldwide. Shush…don’t tell anyone what a great secret we have hiding right here in the Rust Belt.

Cumberland - Source:

Cumberland, Maryland – shoe-horned between the steep ridges of Willis Mountain, Haystack Mountain, Irons Mountain, Big Knob, the Pennsylvania border, and the Potomac River, Cumberland is a history and outdoor recreation lover’s  paradise.  Sometimes called the “City of Spires” for its magnificent church steeples, Cumberland is scenically gorgeous and filled with delightful historical charm.

Madison - Source:

Madison, Wisconsin – built on an isthmus like Seattle, Madison is bounded by lovely freshwater lakes. The city’s handsome downtown area sits smack dab in the center of the isthmus and is visible from throughout the metro area across lakes Monona and Mendota. Throw in the University of Wisconsin’s main campus and you have one beautiful urban setting.

Traverse City -

Traverse City, Michigan – the sand dunes, the lake, the dune ridges, the cherry trees, the bays, the lighthouses, the peninsulas. What more could anyone ever ask for?

Chicago - Source:

Chicago, Illinois – One glimpse of the city’s skyline from Lake Michigan and  one quickly realizes that Chicago is much more magnificent than just a single mile. Personally, I find Lake Shore Drive in the summer to be one of the most captivating excursions anywhere.

Pittsburgh - Source:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – there are few initial views of a city skyline that are more impressive than exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnel and seeing downtown Pittsburgh, especially at night. With more bridges and inclines (funiculars) than anyplace else in the United States, varied topography and visual goodies are a huge understatement in Pittsburgh.

Ithaca - Source:

Ithaca, New York – with a slogan of “It’s Gorgeous” Ithaca beholds and beckons residents and visitors alike to explore its gorge-dotted terrain. Toss in the Finger Lakes and you have scenic combination that’s hard to top.

Dubuque - Source:

Dubuque, Iowa – like Bloomington, Indiana (see below), Dubuque defies the stereotype of Iowa being flat. It is a delightfully hilly city set along a particularly scenic segment of the Mississippi River where three state border converge (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin).  Though not located on an Interstate Highway, Dubuque is easy to get to via U.S. 20, U.S. 61, and U.S. 151. It is definitely worth the try. Oh, by the way, be sure to check out the “Field of Dreams” in nearby Dyersville, Iowa.

Marquette - Source:

Marquette, Michigan – the economic epicenter and unofficial capital of the Upper Peninsula, Marquette is a charming city situated on an especially scenic segment of Lake Superior shoreline. Sugarloaf Mountain, and Presque Isle City Park add to the ambiance, as do the crystal clear waters and rugged coastline. While you are there, within a few miles of Marquette are a myriad of waterfalls.

Altoona - Source:

Altoona, Pennsylvania – set in a long, lovely valley, Altoona is framed by linear blueish mountain ridges of the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains.

Athens - Source: lakehillcabin,com

Athens, Ohio – hidden in hilly southeast Ohio, Athens is an enchanting surprise to anyone visiting the city for the first time. The University of Ohio campus (far prettier than that other school in Columbus) adds to the charm of overall setting.

Cincinnati - Source:

Cincinnati, Ohio – tucked away in the southwest corner of the state along the Ohio River, Cincinnati has a storied history. Its hilly terrain makes the city come alive with exciting views and vistas from every direction.

Fall River - Source:

Fall River, Massachusetts – another isthmus city, which is situated on a ridge between the Taunton River and Mt. Hope Bay on the west, and North Wattupa Pond on the east. The view from any direction while crossing the Charles Braga (I-195) Bridge is spectacular.

Erie - Source:

Erie, Pennsylvania – set aside its namesake lake, Erie is much more than lake effect snow. It is Presque Isle State Park which juts out into Lake Erie like a gigantic comma; it is sandy, windswept ridges, and it is full of captivating history.
Bloomington – Source:
Bloomington, Indiana – who said Indiana was flat? Come to Bloomington to see for yourself that the Hoosier State indeed has hills. I may be a Purdue alumni, but in spring time, Bloomington is especially nice as the flowering trees bloom and blossom.
There are other cities I could have included, but I think the point has been made. Sometimes, we are overly critical of ourselves. But, if Rust Belt residents stop and take an objective look, I think they would agree that we have some inspiring city settings too.
by Rick Brown

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Filed under architecture, Art, Economic Development, Headline, regionalism, the environment, The Media

Come to Pages & Places in Scranton

This year marks the third annual Pages & Places Book Festival in Scranton on Saturday.

The event is intimately tied to Scranton as a place, its creators say:

“Pages & Places grew out of two overlapping phenomena. On the one hand, there’s the obvious, ongoing revitalization of the city of Scranton, manifest in new construction and the rehabilitation of some of the city’s landmark architecture, in the influx of new downtown residences, and the reinvigoration of long-time and former residents who have committed to opening businesses downtown. On the other is the realization that thriving American cities—and there are relatively few in the early 21st century—require a vivid and interactive arts and culture scene. The Pages & Places Book Festival is our contribution to these exciting and necessary trends.”

 This year’s event features a host of panels speaking on everything from Coal Region writers to The Civil War to (Scranton native) Jane Jacobs and the death and life of Rust Belt cities, a panel co-sponsored by Rust Wire.

For more about the specific speakers and panels, click here.

One of the festival’s organizers, Bill Black, wrote a guest editorial for us last year about why he believes the festival is a key part of some exciting new things happening in Scranton.

Click here for tickets.


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Filed under Economic Development, Good Ideas, regionalism, The Media

Urban Hiking in Pittsburgh

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of joining a group of Pittsburghers for an Urban Hike in Swissvale, a borough just outside the city with an interesting history.

Some stops along the way included the Trundle Manor, Kopp Glass and some affordable housing for sale from the Mon Valley Initiative.

Also on the journey: The Triangle Bar, home of the famous “Battleship” (giant sub sandwich).

Urban Hike is a group that regularly organizes hikes in the city’s various neighborhoods and surrounding communities, with stops along the way so participants can learn about what they are walking by/seeing. I recommend checking out their web site to learn more about where they will be trekking next.

What a great morning! A combination of some of my favorite things: cities, history and walking!


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Filed under Featured, Good Ideas, Real Estate, regionalism, The Big Urban Photography Project, Urban Planning

The Difficulties of Consolidating Communities

Very interesting story in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal about the difficulties of consolidating local governments and local government services.

It focuses on Michigan and Governor Rick Snyder’s push to consolidate some of its many units of government (1,773 municipalities, 609 school districts, 1,071 fire departments and 608 police departments, according to the story).

Though mergers might make fiscal sense, they aren’t always popular, as the story explains:

“Over the years, consolidation proposals haven’t fared well with voters. Of the 105 referendums on city-county mergers since 1902, only 27 have passed, the most recent in 2000, when Louisville, Ky., merged into Jefferson County, according to David Rusk, a Democratic ex-mayor of Albuquerque and a proponent of consolidation. Last year, voters vetoed a merger of Memphis, Tenn., with Shelby County. In March, Memphis voters approved a merger of the city and county school systems, over strong suburban opposition. The county board of education has sued to block the merger.”


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Filed under regionalism, sprawl, Urban Planning

Come to the opening of The Big Urban Photography Project’s first show

Rust Wire is proud to present The Big Urban Photography Project art show, featuring photographic interpretations of Rust Belt cities as seen through the eyes of their young residents. The show is the result of a multi-year collaborative media project that called on the region’s best documentary and fine arts photographers.

Over two years, we asked for open submissions of photography highlighting the unique blend of despair and hope in a number of cities. Dozens of amateur and professional photographers submitted images of Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Cincinnati, Buffalo and others. The art show will allow us to share hold up the best work as a tribute to the region.

The Brew House, 2100 Mary Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side, will host the exhibit.

The show will open with a reception from 6-9 p.m. Friday, April 15. We would love to see you -our readers and contributors- there.

Let us know if you are coming here. We would love to meet as many of you as possible.

We also plan to bring the show to Cleveland and Youngstown soon!

A special thanks to Theo Keller at The Brew House, Tirzah DeCaria and Kara Skylling for helping plan and co-ordinate this show!

-Kate & Angie

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Filed under architecture, Art, Featured, regionalism, Rust Belt Blogs, The Big Urban Photography Project, The Media

Fed Research Shows Positive Trend for Pittsburgh

This post was written by contributor Lewis Lehe. -KG

Stephan Whitaker, a research economist at the Cleveland Fed, has noticed two salubrious trends in RustBelt demographics:

1) between 2000 and 2008, college graduates rose sharply as a share of the work-force in several urban areas

2) in the future, the graduate share will keep rising as older, less-educated workers retire

This news is good taken at face value, because research by Ed Glaeser and other urban economists suggests cities thrive as idea-generating centers. When educated people interact face-to-face, they breed businesses and insights.

Educational Attainment of Working-age Adults in Fourth District Metro Areas

Working-age adults (2008) Degree share 2000 (percent) Degree share 2008 (percent) Change (percent)
Erie 151,718 22.5 28.2 5.6
Akron 386,990 26.1 31.6 5.4
Pittsburgh 1,235,251 28.1 32.7 4.6
Columbus 896,440 32.3 36.9 4.5
Lexington-Fayette 161,486 37.1 41.5 4.4
Mansfield 67,839 13.1 17.4 4.3
Youngstown-Warren 306,892 17.5 21.7 4.2
Cleveland 1,223,369 26.0 29.2 3.2
Cincinnati 863,150 28.6 31.7 3.1
United States 167,282,883 26.5 29.6 3.1
Canton 226,427 19.1 20.8 1.8
Lima 80,257 14.9 16.6 1.7
Hamilton-Middleton 195,416 25.9 27.4 1.5
Dayton-Springfield 508,775 24.4 25.8 1.3
Toledoa 419,227 21.6 22.9 1.3

Things I thought were interesting

Whitaker finds that Pittsburgh stands out in both trends, because we are gaining lots of graduates (mainly PA locals and international immigrants) and because our older workers are very uneducated—probably because they grew up in a city with steel mills. He speculates: “If the highly educated cohorts in Pittsburgh continue to phase in, the city will eventually have a workforce like a university town rather than a former industrial center.”

I also did my own comparison and found that the number of college-grad immigrants Pittsburgh gained exceeds the entire population of Bloomfield. I think this is a good thought comparison because Bloomfield itself is split between young college grads and old people. Here is a picture I took in Bloomfield that captures the tension:

These trends indicate Pittsburgh will probably become a better place for people like me to live. More college graduates will produce wider cultural variety, more startups, and less-corrupt politicians.  I’m excited about that, but I believe there’s another side to this coin: Pittsburgh’s graduate share will rise in part because it is not a good place for working-class men and women to move. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you take the whole universe into account, though. After all, in order for some places to be good at attracting working class men and women, other places have to be good at losing them (or at least not gaining them). But it’s worth keeping in mind.

In contrast, I thought this was worth highlighting: “Columbus and Cincinnati both experienced large increases in their populations of unskilled immigrants. In Columbus, the nondegreed immigrant adult population increased from just under 30,000 to over 46,000, and the equivalent population in Cincinnati increased from 19,700 to 29,600.”

Since unskilled immigrants are the working class of the working class, I say hats off to Columbus and Cincinnati for providing an attractive place for these families to live. Doubly so for Columbus as it is also a highly-educated city.

-Lewis Lehe


Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Education, Headline, regionalism

A Story I Never Get Tired of Reading!

Ok, I know, we’ve written about this before (see here and here) so my apologies if you are sick of hearing about it.

But frankly, I think it’s important to remember that whatever challenges our part of the country faces, it’s no bed of roses in the Sun Belt, either.  And now there’s a book to explain more on this topic.

USA Today says the “sunburnt” cities of Florida, California and the Southwest must rethink themselves.

The paper writes, “Boomtowns that have been scorched by the housing crisis could learn from struggling Rust Belt communities,” according to Justin Hollander, urban planning professor at Tufts University and author of Sunburnt Cities: The Great Recession, Depopulation and Urban Planning in the American Sunbelt, which was published March 1.

“Sunburnt cities have a chance to limit growth for growth’s sake by allowing dense development and reducing parking requirements to encourage walking, public transportation and more green space, Hollander says.

‘In each place there are a lot of opportunities to think smaller,’ he says. ‘It hasn’t happened yet. Largely, these cities are in denial.'”

We’ll see, I guess, what kinds of choices places like the ones Hollander describes make.



Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Real Estate, regionalism, sprawl, Urban Planning