TV Show Will be Buffalo “Lovefest”

The Buffalo News reports The Travel Channel will feature Buffalo this summer in an hour-long show that has yet to be named.

The show’s host told the paper:

“It kind of awes me that much of the country, like myself, is in the dark as far as what Buffalo means in the evolution of the United States. Buffalo was such a profound part of this nation. If I can do a television show that has any part in teaching that, that’s terrific.”

The series features places that are off-limits to the general public, such as the city’s old grain elevators.

Buffalo is one of 13 cities being filmed for the first season of the series; other cities include LA, San Francisco, New York and Seattle, according to the paper.

If you are a fan of The Queen City’s beauty, make sure you check out these previous Rust Wire posts that showcase its amazing architecture: here, here and here.

Sounds like it will be an interesting show!



Filed under architecture, Art, Featured, Good Ideas, The Media

Cycling in Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh

Fresh Water Cleveland is running a brilliant story (ha, I wrote it) about the differing bike cultures in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. This was inspired by a personal theory of mine that the health of cities can be measured by the number of miles of bike lanes it has and the number of blogs. Any social scientists want to take that on? (By my informal research, that makes Pittsburgh and St. Louis the healthiest Rust Belt cities.)

The Scene: A maze of decaying streets intermingled with dirt-tinged smokestacks and neglected church steeples.

The Action: A small knot of cyclists set off en masse from a Carnegie-built library in a formerly robust steel town.

Background: Cycling is still a fringe activity in this Rust Belt metropolis, wedged as it is between the trendier East and West coasts. But a small yet committed group of riders shrug off the incredulous stares. Some even commute to work, though few of their employers provide showers and lockers, much less secure bike parking. At least the local transit authority finally has installed bike racks.

Welcome to Pittsburgh circa 2003, when the Post-Gazette published the story “Can Pittsburgh Learn to Love Bikes?”

The cycling community in the Steel City was just beginning to coalesce, a full 13 years after Bicycling Magazine named it one of the country’s 10 worst cities for biking. That unappealing distinction inspired Pittsburgh leaders to reflect upon the few who traveled the burgh’s famous hills and bridges through the sheer force of their own power, leveraged by a simple, classic machine.

“A critical mass of bicyclists — activists or not — is one ingredient that Pittsburgh needs to become the kind of hip place that attracts talented young workers now and in the future,” the Post-Gazette posited almost prophetically in 2003, at a time when even many in the cycling community considered the city a dangerous place to ride.

Fast forward to present day and you’ll find a vastly different bike culture has taken flight. Pittsburgh recently won the honor of being named a Bronze-level “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists, putting them on par with regional leaders like Columbus and Indianapolis. With support of its mayor, Pittsburgh is aiming even higher, hoping to join cities like Denver, Austin and Minneapolis in the Silver class.

Read the full article at Fresh Water Cleveland


Filed under Good Ideas, Headline, Public Transportation

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

David Simon’s “Argument for the City”

I know this isn’t strictly Rust Belt-related, but I’m sure many readers of this site are fans of The Wire as much as I am.

So here’s a link to an excerpt of an interview creator David Simon did with The Progressive magazine. The entire piece is not available online, only in the print version of the magazine.

I think my favorite part is when Simon says:

“This show, if we do it right, is an argument for the city. For the idea of American urbanity, for the melting pot, for the idea that our future can’t be separated from the fact that we are all going to be increasingly compacted into urban areas, though we’re different in race and culture and religion. And what we make of that will determine the American future.

I listened during the last election cycle to the rhetoric about small town values and where the real Americans live. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve never heard such bullshit in my life.’ Rural America’s not coming back. That idea was lost with the Industrial Revolution. And yet with more than 80 percent of Americans living in metropolitan areas, there are still demagogues who want to run down the idea of multiculturalism, of urbanity, being the only future we have. We either live or die based on how we live in cities, and our society is either going to be great or not based on how we perform as creatures of the city.”



Filed under Editorial, Good Ideas, Politics, The Media

Race in the Branding of Rust Belt Chic

There’s an attraction in the post-glut ethos to an emerging Rust Belt Chic brand. Recently I wrote about cities capitalizing on this attraction by embracing grit-chic as an opportunity to develop by just being what they are: hard-working, resilient, steel- and stone-bodied, frontier-like in their decay, etc. In thinking of what Cleveland is, here is what I wrote:

Cleveland—it is a lot. It’s part Napoleon Dynamite: alienated, quirky, but with a spine of cut-through-the-bullshit intrigue. It is lunch pails and bridges, iron and stone, yet a place of poetics formed from a pensiveness borne from its afterthought status. Cleveland is hard and soft, then: knuckles and tits—and this is perhaps most embodied in its music as hybrid polka-rock DJs share the same city air that catches the sounds of the Cleveland Orchestra. Cleveland is wandering. Cleveland is finding when it’s not blinded by what it’s looking for. Cleveland is the nostalgic comfort that is hearing the night train. Cleveland is Joan Jett in the Light of Day.

For me, a lifelong Near West Sider, this was my take on Cleveland’s version of Rust Belt Chic. Then a commenter opined. Using the name “East Side”, this is what the individual wrote:

Cleveland is Marcus Garvey; Cleveland is Chester Himes; Cleveland is Carl Stokes; Cleveland is a black face with a black fist. Cleveland is a place of amazing black jazz and vibrant hip hop. Cleveland is the Bone Thugs spitting rhymes about life on these streets. Cleveland will be reborn when our brothers and sisters have a truly equal chance at making our stamp.

After reading East Side’s comment, I noticed how different we had imaged the same city, a difference perhaps reflected by the extent our city has been sliced by race. And though lately this has changed—with the black population migrating into the city’s West Side and into certain inner ring suburbs of the East, the fact remains that Cleveland still operates like a body with two heads that have lived different lives.

My next thought was: to what extent is black culture representative of Rust Belt Chic? This is important on a number of levels, for if the grit-chic brand is (or is destined to become) heavily white and hipster—or white and Springsteen-like—or white and ethic, then what is occurring is an economic development strategy catering to part of a city’s flavor, which only serves to reinforce said segregation that so often kills any chance of agglomerating a mass of dynamic thought.

The pillars of Rust Belt Chic: unscrubbed, and culturally ubiquitous

Examining to what extent the black experience is threaded into the brand of grit-chic, it’s necessary to get a feel for what it is. Blogger and geographer Jim Russell—an extensive thinker on the concept—describes the core of Rust Belt Chic as “the possibility of the urban frontier”. Of course this frontier is more post-modern than pre-, and so the realities of the landscape must enter into the brand’s fray: ruins—shuttered entries and openings where they weren’t designed to be—alienated spaces between old forms. Visually, the Rust Belt city is thus the morning body in the bathroom light, eliciting notions of the pre-cosmetic—the stripped down, the authentic. And as is the case with age lines, the “as is” state in the brand is but a leading tip of the past up to that point, making lineage and identity central also. And of course the simple fact of getting up, preparing, and entering into a city of consequences…well, you get the drift.

The above could be described as the unscrubbed building blocks of the brand, with the attributes being found in all cultures within the Rust Belt. Pushing further, if we take the urban frontier as the starting point, you could argue that the seed of grit-chic is in those most system-busted spaces of our cities which—more often than not—are heavily black. And so it is perhaps here that what has hence been called “chic” is more necessary than it is messaged out as a manner to capture the minds of the country’s dreamers.

Some examples of necessity grit-chic from black creators are many, and they need not be listed ad nausea. But the video below shows one of my favorites from Flint. It mixes karate, urban ag, and rap. And then there’s Bourdain’s visit to the Roost in Baltimore. It’s a little piece on lineage, sustenance, and hunger, all with a rust flavor. And finally, there’s this from detroitblog about homesteading in East Detroit (via Urbanophile).

Bling vs. rust

Of course the difficulties and potential divergences of any cultural brand arise when this brand is being refined and messaged for economic gain. The refinement of hip hop not only provides lessons for the branding of Rust Belt Chic, but the effects of its commercialization can be viewed as being at cross purposes to the pillars of Rust Belt culture. This in turn could lead to “whiteification” of the brand, thus ending its chances at coalescing a regional identity across racial divides.

Hip hop is more than rap, but culture. And it caught fire in part because it represented a creative reworking of a reality that was once only discussed in terms of what the hell was wrong. This goes on today when urbanists lament the diseases of the incredible shrinking city.

The state of hip hop today is mixed. Some in the industry say the gross commercialization robbed it of its essence. Greg Tate writes:

Given that what we call hiphop is now inseparable from what we call the hip hop industry, in which the nouveau riche and the super-rich employers get richer, some say there’s really nothing to celebrate about hip hop right now but the moneyshakers and the moneymakers—who got bank and who got more.

Conversely, some think any bastardization of hip hop’s authenticity is overshadowed by the extent of its global scale:

50 Cent is one of the biggest stars in the world, from Kingston to Capetown, and whether or not you like 50 is irrelevant; he’s a mythic figure who has attained a cultural relevance so massive that it is hard to comprehend from our perspective. Rap’s cultural capital is larger than ever before. A mixed blessing, because in the United States, and many other countries, cultural capital doesn’t translate into social justice, economic justice or any kind of justice—it’s just another opportunity.

Regardless of who’s right, hip hop’s meme of becoming something outside of inner-city poverty has captivated a generation of youth, both black and non-black. And it’s not hard to see why. Because with global comes the obvious: way beyond the mere local, which in the realm of becoming means more fame and more money. This is a pretty powerful message when its laid at your damn feet, or even when it’s not: just thinking the thought, of going global. That said, mass fame vs. the pillars of grit-chic—it’s definitely and underdog fight and Cleveland isn’t A. Creed.

Of course Exhibit A of this is the Decision. LeBron James, a self-professed Akron honk who grew up in the real of it—he made it known he got the meme long ago. Himself a Yankees and a Cowboys fan, James said he was going to “light Cleveland up like Vegas”, and that his goal in life was to be “a global icon”. Of course the irony here was that his global reach was set up by his brand as a local in a region where locality still meant something. And perhaps the country—more than anything—appreciated him for that. Yet it’s also a country of “Go West, young man” in which the brand of authenticity must be grown into something greater than an idea of simple, broken, and resilient beginnings. Because of course: the Rust Belt is shit and dead, while the real frontier is near the sands edging the edgy night clubs. So said Richard Florida in his reaction to why LeBron left:

But real entrepreneurs—those who want to build something new—sometimes pick “frontier locations,” places where they can mold the environment to help them reach their desired goals…Perhaps this is what Miami had to offer the Three Kings. The place is diverse enough, open-minded enough, free-wheeling enough, and hungry enough that they can make their own rules.

Rust Belt Chic and hip hop: brothers from another mother?

While this is one line of thinking—i.e., that the hip hop meme clashes with the pillars of grit-chic thus imbuing the latter with a brand that is more Pabst and pirogies than it needs to be—there remains the possibility of an another line of thinking as well. This line of thinking goes that the 50 cent(s) and LeBron(s) and Richard Florida(s) of the world are on the cusp of a trajectory that is a twilight of today, and that the Rust Belt was so yesterday that it’s approaching the cusp of a new tomorrow. Going further, this post-glut ethos that has given rise to Rust Belt Chic is bubbling up in existing cultural brands, hip hop being one of them. And when paired–the aesthetic of rust with the sounds of stripped rap–it’s like a spoon full of meat to the country’s consciousness after a diet on eye candy. The Chevy ad is a perfect example of this. So was the movie 8 mile.  And then here, in Cleveland.

Come to think of it, in many respects the pillars of grit-chic are the pillars of hip hop: resilient; imaged in the boarded yet stoic building standing before the backdrop of your city’s skyline; locally flavored; creatively reworked so that another’s understanding of failure is your awareness that the truth is more complicated; and perhaps most importantly: a brand that has arrived out of the lived as opposed to being manufactured for the living.

That said, in developing the brand the purveyors of grit-chic should learn from hip hop’s evolution so as to not diverge from the principles it had evolved from. Part of doing this is to fight the temptation to use Rust Belt Chic to become the reflection of another city’s success.  In fact grit-chic is less about becoming than it is keeping on in the face of consequences.

–Richey Piiparinen

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Cleveland SGS

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Filed under Headline, Race Relations

The Woodward Project — A New Model for Detroit

Andrew Basile, writer of the infamous Detroit sprawl letter, shared this video he has been working on with us. It outlines how car culture destroyed Detroit and how the Woodward Corridor presents an opportunity for revitalization.

What an inspiring guy. Kudos to Mr. Basile for fighting the good fight and not “silently surrendering,” like so many other businesses.

Detroit’s Woodward Avenue:

Before:                                                                                    After:



Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, Public Transportation, sprawl

Legoman Rap Video on Detroit’s Woodward Light Rail

Ha. Nuff said.

Joel Batterman of Transport Michigan, maker of this video, is one of the smartest and most creative voices in the region, in my opinion.


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Filed under Featured, Public Transportation