Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rust Belt Reductionism

There's a lot more happening in Rust Belt cities than decline or revival. Much of the coverage fails to capture the nuance and subtlety of cities like Flint and Detroit. Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek of The Atlantic Cities report:
Many dispatches from the industrial north are written by writers who fly to report what they saw during a day or a weekend, and almost invariably, the memes get in the way, or more likely, were in the writer's head before she arrived. Looking around cities like Cleveland, it's easy to draw hasty conclusions, to either sentimentalize the old, gritty working class blocks now abandoned, or be all gobsmacked to find signs of modernity and life. The resulting picture looks too black and white: "this is where the good stuff is—the rebirth!—and this is where the bad stuff is--the ruin!" Truth is, the Rust Belt is a very gray place: it is both in ruins and reviving. It’s a fascinating time and place for the region, particularly for urbanists. But the ruin and revival memes flatten out complexity.

1 comment:

  1. Most people aren't good with complexity.

    Almost all of us like complicated analyses presented to us as "executive summaries".

    It's even nicer when the simplification fits into a meme that we already understand and like, in either the hopeful or the schadenfreudian senses.

    Instant classification allows us to stop thinking about complexity much sooner, and get back to whatever we'd otherwise prefer to be thinking about.

    An analyst who insists that his audience pay rapt attention to complicated details that confound a simple analysis, soon will have no audience.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at