Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rust Belt Chic: Saving Cities

My first inclination is to critique the Cleveland-based young talent initiative Saving Cities. However, I recognize that my negative reaction concerns the coverage in GOOD titled, "Saving Cities Solves the Rust Belt Brain Drain". Forget the headline. Skip most of the piece and read the last paragraph:

But the project’s most significant new move may be symbolic: the way they’re pooling not just resources, but identities, to get behind the “postindustrial” theme. “[We’re] not trying to create a competition between cities,” Storey notes. Emphasizing the common experience of these cities is a clever way of pointing out its value.

Saving Cities is peddling Rust Belt Chic to young talent. One place branding blogger picked up on the same theme:

Des Moines, where I live, has done a lot of economic development and place branding work in the last couple decades, and it has really begun to show in both the quality of life and the accolades. But this has only happened because it had a great team of people and citizens that believed in what Des Moines was, and what it could be. There were people that wanted to stay and fight for Des Moines, and who didn’t think anything was wrong in the first place. Those people are the people ultimately responsible for the success of a city, because at one point each place had its glory. And remember, place branding and city pride aren’t all about drawing attention—although that will come along with the efforts—but, more about making an effort to make your city one where you want to live.

I emphasized the key sentence in the passage. I take it to mean that the supposed negative stereotype of a shrinking city is appropriated by locals as positive. I love Des Moines because it isn't Chicago or any place else deemed successful. The perspective embraces the parochial as quirky cool, something lacking in so many boomtowns.

The above is what Baltimore fails to grasp. That city is busy trying to bury what makes it unique and interesting. The efforts to subdue the past reminds me of broadcast journalists who do their damnedest to efface the regional accent. Cosmopolitanism is without culture.

Ironically, globalization has fueled a renaissance of the local. Regional identities subvert nationalism. Generation Y fetishizes smaller and more distinct geographies while maintaining a tolerance of all that is global (i.e. foreign). I think this shift in tastes is a boon for the Rust Belt and Saving Cities is busy selling its urban assets to a receptive demographic.

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