Friday, July 18, 2008

America is Ready for Rust Belt Chic

Most Rust Belt boosters don't particularly care for the term "Rust Belt." I think the negative baggage is obvious enough, but I don't see much gain in trying to remake the brand. Even the Shrinking Cities Diaspora doesn't understand just how cool Rust Belt can be (and is):

This city of 311,000 is often overlooked and underrated as a travel destination but it has more in the way of diversions than many cities twice its size. Thanks, in part, to the largess of long-dead steel barons, it boasts stand-out architecture and a superior cultural infrastructure. Its natural assets — three rivers flowing through town, a profusion of parks and eye-popping city views from the precipice of Mount Washington — add to the allure. And, not least, its multicultural neighborhoods offer rich, one-of-a-kind flavor.

I stumbled upon the article at CEOs for Cities, which adds its own voice to the rising chorus of praise for the Postindustrial Heartland. On a smaller scale, I could imagine the above quote applying to Youngstown. In fact, I want to proclaim Y-Town as the official cultural capital of Rust Belt Chic. The model I have in mind is the migration of Slackers to Austin with Dallas-Ft. Worth being the actual global economic engine and ascendant world city. Youngstown and Pittsburgh have that kind of potential.

The way the rest of country knows so little about Pittsburgh, the entire Rust Belt lacks an appreciation of Youngstown. After touring Youngstown, I'm anxious to visit other Rust Belt cities and see the hidden gems residing there. Cincinnati tops my list. But in my mind, the "Y" in Generation Y stands for Youngstown.


Tyler said...

Motion seconded!

LCathleen said...

This post made me laugh (In a good way) as I thought Y-town --the next Austin -- where all the slackers hang out! I say we start that advertising campaign in California, though. It seems as though Austin is weary of all the people moving there from California. Let's get them to sell their $500,00 -- $800,000 1200sqft. houses there and buy a beautiful mansion in Y-town (I hear there's a nice house in Liberty for about $259K, great security system and all). Then they can hang out in Y-town, living on the excess equity out of their CA house, spending that money in Y-town, while they decide what to do with the next phase of their lives. Maybe some will decide to stay and start businesses. Maybe some will decide to stay and just hang out and retire. This is one aspect of what has happened in Austin. Or maybe we should target New York City -- sell that expensive Manhattan real estate...
Stranger things have happened!

John Morris said...

Just check out the nastalgia in Brooklyn and the rest of NY to the last traces of it's gritty past and the silly hipsters wearing defend Brooklyn T shirts. and I think a lot of them drink Pabst or some other beer with "working man" street cred. They used to drink Brooklyn Lager but over time it lost it's spin as a "real" Brooklyn thing.

Jim, have you ever been to Williamsburg or Greenpoint in Brooklyn. The resemblence to Pittsburgh ?(the strip and Lawrencevile is huge)

The big issue isn't whether this is true. I think there's a huge market outside the Rust Belt for real places and affordable cities.

The problem is a culture clash with much of the current population that doesn't really want outsiders.

Also, there's a strong missreading of the market. Most of these people are looking for real, affordable, old time neighborhoods, dense downtowns, Historic architecture or perhaps gritty wharehouse buildings that allow them freedom and open floor space. But, most people in these areas don't see much value in these things and are often still obsessed with apealing to former residents who moved to the suburbs.

Pittsburgh's marketing materials and guides still focus on the Cheesecake factory, Hard Rock Cafe, malls and chain hotels that one finds in every city and even worse a staggering amount of it's most attractive buildible space has been dedicated to stadiums and parking facilities that are infrequently used. If one went to PNC Park and said wow, I want a view like that one, you couldn't have it. Ironically there isn't one substantial high rise residential building on Pittburgh's North Shore to capitalise on the views and convenience to downtown. Instead there are parking lots and garages for the suburban fans.

Jim Russell said...


I'm quite familiar with Williamsburg, but not so much Greenpoint. I can see the similarities between Williamsburg and Larryville. My suspicion is that Williamsburg refugees are the reason for the likeness.

Tyler said...

$259k? Please. You could have a 4,500 sq ft 7-room estate built in 1927 in the most affordable historic district in the country—the Crandall Park-Fifth Avenue Historic District—on Youngstown's north side for less than $188k. Great security system, too, and beautiful, tree-lined street in walking distance to the park, and elementary school and a golf course. Make a right out of the driveway and follow it one mile to the university and downtown.

LCathleen said...

I know! Those houses in Crandall Park - 5th Avenue Historic District are absolutely beautiful and growing up in the area, I always admired them and wondered who lived there and wished I could. Now I actually can -- perhaps I should snatch one up before Y-Town is chic and the prices go up! But there is that problem of getting a job in the area for us... housing prices in Pittsburgh are not high enough - at least not mine -- that me and my family could live off the equity...

John Morris said...

I kind of suspect the sweet spot for Youngstown right now is in attracting the really price sensitive.

People, just make the assumption that all "poor people" are bad for a community and that they don't have anything to offer. That can be true of some people, but there are large groups of people who are capital poor, that would be a great asset. First of all, young people as a whole, like students are at least temporarily poor, since they haven't entered their earning years and don't have savings or mature job skills. But, obviously, these come in time.

Also, groups like immigrants often come without a lot of money. Then, you have people like artists, musicians etc... who have chosen a career path that isn't focused on money. They would rather be commited to their work and have more time for it.

Anyway, That's the likely sweet spot. It's a huge opportunity cause most of the so called "creative class" places are pricing out thier creative types. Lots of people are moving or at least looking.

Just turn the other way, on micromanaging zoning, and needless building rules. Lots of artists in NYC squated in buildings and fixed them up on the sly. Many of them are now being kicked out.

Brooklyn actually has Illegal "squat" type situations with people paying $2,000- $4,000 a month to live in illeagal units.
Mostly what they want is a space to work and proximity to a creative community.