Category Archives: Rust Belt Blogs

Pittsburgh Pics

Some great photos of the Steel City from my pal Estelle Tran at her new blog, Pixburgh N’at.

Recognize this spot in Oakland?

Another great street scene.

Love this one.

Make sure you read the sign.

Check more of ’em out here.


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

Follow Jen’s Rust Belt Ride

Painter and cyclist Jen Clausen is biking through the Rust Belt this month from her home in Madison, Wisconsin, to New York City.

Along, the way, she is painting what she sees every day.

Check out Rust Belt Ride to see what she has seen so far in Milwaukee and Chicago!

Thanks to Madison garden/ political blogger Linda Brazill for bringing this ride to our attention!


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Filed under Art, Featured, Good Ideas, Rust Belt Blogs

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

Take the Rust Wire Reader Survey

If you are a regular to semi-regular reader of this site, please take a moment to answer our brief reader survey here.

This shouldn’t take more than five minutes, we promise!

And it will help us to give you of what you want to read on our site.

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Filed under Good Ideas, Rust Belt Blogs

Erie Expatriates Seeking Jobs…in South Korea

This guest editorial comes from Kristi Gandrud, a native of my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, currently living in South Korea and working as an editor of a national English-language proficiency test. She created the Facebook group Erie Expatriates, which was inspired by one of my favorite Rust Belt blogs, Flint Expatriates.

What do you think about what she has to say? Do you know fellow Rust Belters who have sought work abroad? -Kate G.

When I was an undergraduate headed to Canada for my freshman year, I remember trying to get a money order to pay for my visa application in advance of crossing the border.  Standing at the counter in my credit union in Erie, PA, trying to persuade the clerk to make a money order out in Canadian dollars? I might as well have asked for Mauritian rupees. Before I left the credit union, half the staff had been called on deck to figure out how to perform such an exotic transaction. I shook my head at the apparent difficulty of using the currency of a country which, on a clear day, I could see from my bedroom window. Eventually getting what I’d come for, I left the credit union in disbelief of my hometown’s provincial ways, and made for the border.

Four years in Canada and one linguistics degree later, I found myself living in Seoul, South Korea as an ESL kindergarten teacher, far from the shores of that provincial hometown. I had, at some point in my undergraduate linguistics career, heard the drumbeat of the overseas ESL market, and registered for a one-year intensive Korean language class. When Koreans ask me how I got here, that’s what I tell them. I say, “Yeah…I studied the language in undergrad, so I got interested in Korea, and I just ended up here…”

But what I really want to say is: “Well, I come from a pretty economically depressed region of the US, and when I finished my undergrad, I had no viable options for a job in my hometown, and few personal connections for jobs anywhere else. I was able to get a job in Seoul that paid about $23,000 a year, included free housing and round-trip airfare, provided health insurance, and only required a bachelor’s degree,” –which is more along the lines of the truth. My Korean studies did help me move to Seoul, and my linguistics background did nudge me toward language teaching, but the main draw of the Korean labor market was stable, decently remunerated employment for my 22-year old self.

And it seems, I wasn’t the only Erie native to figure this out. Most obviously, there was my boyfriend (now husband) Chris: we were hired together by a major Korean ESL conglomerate, YBM, and were placed in different schools in Seoul. Chris was in as much of an employment bind as I was: he had just finished a one-year master’s degree in political science at the prestigious London School of Economics, but lacking professional opportunities in Erie—as well as personal or professional networks in London—he spent five months pounding the pavement before he finally gave up on getting a job in the UK, and heeded the call of the East Asian ESL-teacher experience.

Also somewhat obviously, there was Chris’s brother Nate. He finished a degree with top marks at Bard College—also, by all accounts, a well-regarded institution of higher education –but, lacking immediate opportunities to start earning an income, followed in his brother’s footsteps to Seoul. Nate now works as a kindergarten teacher at the same company where Chris and I worked, somewhat improbably given his double major in philosophy and history.

That, of course, is all in the family. But how about Emily, a girl from my graduating class at my high school? What are the chances that I would go thousands of miles from home, and meet a classmate working in the very same city, in the very same industry? And this didn’t just happen to me: Nate also met a classmate of his in Korea via Facebook, a girl in his graduating class who now works as an ESL teacher in Busan, on the southeast coast of the country. And what about the steady stream of emails from Erie residents that I’ve answered in the last four years: ‘My cousin is moving to Korea soon, do you think you could write to her with some advice?’ or ‘My neighbor’s son is looking for a job in Seoul, do you have any recommendations?’ or ‘My friend is thinking of doing a year abroad at Yonsei University, what do you know about it?’ When I can momentarily set aside my own gratification at having apparently developed a celebrity reputation in my immediate circle as the pre-eminent South Korea guru, I marvel at the unlikely number of Erie natives heading for the Land of the Morning Calm.

I won’t attempt a detailed review of the positively unfathomable, never-before-seen-in-human-history growth that the South Korean economy experienced from the 1980s to the present. Let’s just say that 50 years ago, it was the poorest country in Asia—malnutrition was widespread, and the infant mortality rate would make even the most hardened social statisticians cringe. (For reference: a Korean friend of mine who is in her mid-30s, the oldest of five children, grew up in a mud hut in the southern city of Gwangju.) Today, Korea’s economy is among the most developed in the world: it gained membership in the OECD, the rich world’s premier economic social club, in 1996.

If you don’t have a Samsung cell phone in your bag or pocket right now, you probably know someone who does. The last time I visited Erie, my father-in-law proudly gave me a detailed demonstration of his top-of-the-line, front-loading LG washer and dryer, and I must admit, they were quite nice. When my cousin from Pittsburgh wrote me to say that his Playstation soccer game contained a Korean league team called the ‘Pohang Steelers,’ I pointed out that, as home to steel manufacturing  giant POSCO, the coastal city of Pohang has taken much more from Pittsburgh than just the name of its football team. That friend of mine who grew up in the mud hut? She now lives in Seoul in a beautiful high-rise apartment with her successful lawyer husband and a three-year-old daughter. Can this country afford to employ legions of 20-somethings from depressed areas of the US to teach their kids English? You bet it can.

I’m living in Seoul now, and having gotten a master’s degree, have moved up a rung on the expat employment ladder: I work as an editor at Seoul National University on an English proficiency test. From March to July of this year, I spent a grueling 5 months in Erie trying desperately to find a job that would enable me to live closer to my parents, sisters, and grandparents. To no avail: even the interviewer at the temp agency told me the pickings were slim. I finally threw in the towel and decided to come back to a place where I knew employment, a decent wage, and health insurance awaited. This past week, I helped my father and sister-in-law book tickets to Seoul for Christmas. Since my brother-in-law, husband, and I will already be in here, it made sense to do the holidays in Korea.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with the good people at the Erie Federal Credit Union. I’ve been sending remittances home, and I wanted to check on a few of the details of the transactions. I explained to the teller than I was actually living and working in South Korea, and so I understood if my requests to deal in Korean won were a bit out of the ordinary. Fully expecting to don the outlandish mantle of the long-lost hometown girl, I was taken aback when the teller at the other end of the line said, “Oh, no, that’s fine. We deal with won all the time.”


-Kristina Gandrud


Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Education, Headline, Rust Belt Blogs

“The Culture of Destruction” and St. Louis

This nice thing about blogging is that sometimes, people say exactly what you have been thinking, only they say it much more beautifully than you ever could.

So I have to thank Dotage St. Louis for writing this sorrowful and balanced post on demolition–or more specifically one Rust Belt city’s complicated relationship with destruction.

The author, Matt M., starts with a comparison of Baltimore and St. Louis:

I got to thinking: how has Baltimore not torn out more of these rows and created park space or built new housing or just left them fallow, waiting for a time when investment would bring something new? Do whole abandoned blocks not cause issues with surrounding occupied blocks? Do they not pull the image of the city down? This, mind you, was my gut reaction, even as an avowed preservationist. Of course, I was happy to see them remain—thus the hope that later kicked in—but even I was wondering how they could have been spared the wrecking ball.

Then I remembered that I’m a St. Louisan; an automatic member of the cult of destruction.

My leaders have, time and time again, supported the removal of a sturdy built environment and its replacement with something much less, something much worse. Often the replacement is meant to serve the purpose of moving or storing automobiles. This is the city’s greatest power because it is the simplest task at its disposal. Vacant buildings and lots provide convenient opportunities for combining narrow urban lots to form parking lots and garages. A 1920s-era bond issue already widened most roads to an extent likely even then excessive; certainly this was so by the time the region’s vast interstate network was introduced. So a declined city that wants to better move automobiles through itself need only maintain its roads and ensure every new development has ample parking.

This complex was torn down along with many of the surrounding homes. Part of it was replaced with an urban prairie. Photo via Dotage St. Louis. (Ok, this just floors me.)

New Orleans has endured decades of decline, like St. Louis, and, recently, one of the nation’s worst natural disasters ever recorded, unlike St. Louis. It is said that 33 percent of New Orleans’ structures are officially “blighted” circa 2009. Certainly blight in either city is formidable and a problem that needs to be addressed sensitively. The answer, however, is not to simply tear out buildings right as they become vacant. No New Orleans neighborhood–not even the most-storm damaged–is as empty as St. Louis Place. New Orleans did replace old neighborhoods with a series of low-rise public housing complexes, but their surroundings did not become the urban blank slates witnessed in St. Louis.

Youngstown, Cleveland, Buffalo, St. Louis and Detroit are all tearing down buildings as fast as budgets will allow. I hope we don’t wake up in 5 years and realize we’ve made a big mistake. We will never be able to replace the quality of what was lost.

Thanks to The Urbanophile for bringing this to my attention.


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Filed under architecture, Headline, Rust Belt Blogs, Urban Planning

Watch Sprawl and Segregation Transform St. Louis

We’ve been writing a lot about sprawl and race relations lately. I think that is because these issues are tremendously important to the discussion of the current conditions in Rust Belt cities.

Well, I’ve got to thank UrbanSTL for pointing me to this illuminating interactive map that shows how white flight and sprawl transformed the metro area over the course of decades.

You have to visit this site to see it unfold. I think this really mirrors development over the past six decades for Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Youngstown, Buffalo and many other Rust Belt cities.

Notice how the application is called Mapping Decline.


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Filed under Headline, Real Estate, Rust Belt Blogs, sprawl, Urban Planning