Tag Archives: Rust Belt

A Detroit Band with Staying Power

Source: musicboxpete.com

If you have’nt heard of Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers (JH+TRS), don’t worry, because you definitely will. Like a breezy breath of cool, fresh air blowing off of our lovely blue waters, this band brings to life a captivating musical style and awesome songwriting both on the stage and in its recordings. Their shows are filled with superb music and musicianship, tons of rollicking good fun, an eye-popping blizzard of floral/Hawaiian patterns, hilarious/zany eyewear, colorful balloons, and bouncing beach balls. It’s obvious that JH+TRS are having a great time on stage and everyone in the audience is invited to join the party…and they most certainly do.

 

Source: joehertler.com

Outstanding and often poignant lyrics will captivate you and draw you into each song’s story. Many of the song titles and themes may be Michigan-based (Ego Loss on Grand River Avenue, Red Wings, or J.L. Hudson for example), but the lyrics are truly universal. Meanwhile the hooks, melodies, and guitar riffs will have you bobbing your head and dusting off your well-worn air guitar to play along.  Here is what many considered the band’s signature song (Ego Loss on Grand River Avenue) from the album On Being:

And here are two excellent recent additions to the band’s discography (Your Story and Hometown)

What’s most enjoyable about JH+TRS is the way each of their tunes seeps down into you and occupies your heart and soul.  You’re not just idly listening to music by JH+TRS: you are experiencing it, as they skillfully portray life’s ups and downs from a Michigander’s/Rust Belter’s point of view.  And it is nice to know that we Michiganders and Rust Belters have some really cool (and important) things to say–without having to move away to say it!

Rick Brown

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Filed under Art, Brain Drain, Featured, Great Lakes

A literary triumph – “Nothing But Blue Skies” by Edward McClelland

It is difficult to describe how truly outstanding the book entitled Nothing But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland is to read. As a nearly lifelong Rust Belt resident, I can attest to the fact that Edward McClelland’s newly released book simply nails our industrial heritage, decline, and hopeful potential squarely on the head. From nationally known politicians like Dennis Kucinich or Coleman Young to the everyday blue-collar laborer toiling in our mills and factories, Mr. McClelland personifies the Rust Belt like no other book I have ever read on the subject. As a Lansing native, he has personally witnessed the dramatic (and sometimes catastrophic) changes just in his lifetime. In Nothing But Blue Skies, Mr. McClelland takes the reader on a quasi-chronological step-by-step sequence of events that shook the Rust Belt down it its very core.

From Buffalo and the loss of its competitive edge with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to Detroit’s dramatic fall from grace following the 1967 riot, to Cleveland’s multi-decade search for post-Cuyahoga River fire redemption, to Flint, Homestead, and other cities. Mr. McClelland whisks the reader through a series of events that spelled the disaster for America’s Industrial Heartland and gave rise to its current moniker of Rust Belt.

Nothing But Blue Skies is a literary triumph that must be read by anyone who has an interest in history, sociology, economics, demographics, geography, politics, planning, environmental protection, and many other topics. Author Edward McClelland takes the best (and worst) of our post-World War II legacy and paints a tapestry of images that is very hard to put down. I guarantee that you will empathize with many of the everyday folks identified in his book, as they are exactly the same as you and I – Rust Belters.

– Rick Brown

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Filed under Book review, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Great Lakes, Headline, Labor, Politics, Race Relations, the environment, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

2012 Economic Study has Good News for Rust Belt Metros

According to the report “100 Leading Locations for 2012” by Area Development Online, 34 metropolitan areas of the Rust Belt made the Top 100, including the pre-eminent architectural showplace of Columbus, Indiana which was ranked number one.

Below is a list of those Rust Belt metropolitan areas that made the Top 100 in 2012. Congratulations to each of them, especially Columbus, Indiana.

Source: columbusartfest.com

1. Columbus, Indiana

9. Morgantown, West Virginia

12. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

16. Dubuque, Iowa

17. State College, Pennsylvania

20. Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey

24. Holland-Grand Haven, Michigan

29. Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa

30. Ames, Iowa

33. Baltimore, Maryland

34. Williamsport, Pennsylvania

37. Sandusky, Ohio

38. Ann Arbor, Michigan

48. Columbus, Ohio

49. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York

51. Fort Wayne, Indiana

53. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York

57. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Michigan

59. Oshkosh-Neenah, Wisconsin

61. Eau Claire, Wisconsin

63. Des Moines, Iowa

66. Rochester, Minnesota

70. Toledo, Ohio

77. Duluth-Superior, Minnesota-Wisconsin

78. Peoria, Illinois

83. Cumberland, Maryland-West Virginia

84. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania-New Jersey

85. Twin Cities, Minnesota-Wisconsin

88. Appleton, Wisconsin

90. Iowa City, Iowa

91. Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana

95. La Crosse, Wisconsin-Minnesota

96. Greater Lansing, Michigan

98. Bay City, Michigan

– Rick Brown

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Filed under architecture, Art, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured

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: lastingbridge.com

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: ci.cumberland.md.us

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: aeieng.com

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 - en.wikipedia.org

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: corporatecrations.com

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: simtropolis.com

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: nytimes.com

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: nytimes.com

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: photography-plus.com

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: popculturebrain.com

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: litsup.com

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: phayemuss.wordpress.com

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: photography-plus.com

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: images.businessweek.com
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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The Rust Belt's Brain Drain Expressed in Music

Greater Lansing has an amazing music scene, but it’s seldom heard about outside a 100 mile or so radius from the state capital. Probably the best known band to hail from this area is The Verve Pipe, with its memorable #1 hit single “The Freshman.” Frontier Ruckus, The Hard Lessons, and Autumn Lull (among others) have also made a decent amount of buzz outside of their Greater Lansing roots.

Source: soundcloud.com

The Greater Lansing area alternative rock band Elliot Street Lunatic recently released their album Ghost Town Lullabies, and it’s simply superb! I cannot give it a high enough rating–it is literally off the charts for those of us who like alternative rock or indie music.

If there is any downside to the album, it is the sense the listener gets that the band feels it will eventually have to leave Mid-Michigan for the limelight and better opportunities elsewhere. This melancholy feeling is most clearly evident from some of the lyrics contained in the last two tracks, “Shine” and “Lullaby.”

Shine

“He said

That we are all out of time

As we head to the sky

So pack your bags tonight

 

And I know

That the world is slowing down

And I can tell

That everyone is lost, lost, lost, lost


And I can tell

That we will be on our own

So long

To everything you know

To everything you know.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

Lullaby

“And I know some day we will leave

To find a better place to call our home

And now we’re all alone…

And what if we could change it all

Would we be here watching the sun rise and fall

I thought we knew it all.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

As it turns out, two members of the band are already moving on. At the CD release party, it was announced that one is leaving for Denver and the other for graduate school. One can perceive the conflicted emotions that come with a move away from one’s friends and hometown roots. This contradiction is most clearly evident in the lyrics in the track “Hollow Tree.”

Hollow Tree

“You left it all behind

To start a brand new life

We could have had it all

But that’s not who we are

 

We live in a hollow tree

That doesn’t bother me

To sleep out in the cold

Is where I want to be

 

But when I hear them say

You could have been someone

I’ll never understand

Cause I know where I am.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

As a parent of three grown sons, all of whom may move away some day (the oldest will be moving out east this summer), these songs and this record really hit home. In Michigan and throughout much of the Rust Belt, the “brain drain” is a very real problem that continues to be difficult to overcome no matter how many cool cities, music venues, placemaking features, and great third places we create or highlight.

Despite efforts to beef up the cultural and economic vibrancy of the region, in the opening song “Ghost Town,” the band’s lyrics reflect a concern that at least some communities remain stuck in neutral.

Ghost Town

“When no one’s around to ever make a sound

When no one’s around to ever make a sound

Cause this old Ghost Town’s going nowhere.”

Lyrics by Elliot Street Lunatic

Whether the band is referring to Greater Lansing or another community doesn’t really matter. The perception among young people growing up in many parts of the Rust Belt is there are brighter lights and greater opportunities elsewhere. It may be as close by as Chicago, or as far away as the east and west coasts. Either way, it is bad news for many communities dotting the Rust Belt.

 

Elliot Street Lunatic - Source: statenews.com

Personally, I hope the two remaining original members of Elliot Street Lunatic will maintain their roots and thrive with their new bandmates here in Greater Lansing. In our digital world, geography has become virtually irrelevant when is comes to finding outstanding music like Ghost Town Lullabies.

 

Rick Brown

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Do Casinos = Rust Belt Desperation?

The answer is: ‘Yes.’ That’s according to MinnPost writer Steve Berg in a column about a proposed Minneapolis gaming venture.

He writes:

“aside from Las Vegas, a fantasy island built on gambling and tourism, I’m unaware of any U.S. city that has built a casino for any reason other than desperation. Failing Rust Belt cities build casinos. Detroit and Pittsburgh have them. Cleveland and Cincinnati are joining the list. Saginaw and Lansing, Mich., and Rockford, Ill., want to build them.”

I’d also add Milwaukee; Gary, Indiana and Erie, Pennsylvania to that list. I’m sure there’s other cities I’m leaving out.

And it seems that casinos are often sold to these cities as a way to promote jobs and economic development.

But Berg says a casino just seems to smack of desperation. He also points out Vancouver recently rejected a casino proposal, somewhat on these grounds: “[It] doesn’t fit with Vancouver’s global brand as the world’s most livable city, as the green capital of the world, as a hotbed for innovation in clean and digital technology in resource management,” according to Vancouver’s mayor.

More info on the Minneapolis casino proposal is here.

-KG

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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

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