Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rust Belt Chic: Captain Cleveburgh

Advance Northeast Ohio takes a more expansive view of the NEO regional project, perhaps suggesting a warm embrace of the Tech Belt Initiative. I've contended that stopping at the Ohio-Pennsylvania border was another example of the parochialism holding back the Rust Belt. Consider Spain:

In some ways, localism is one of its strengths: for example, the attachment of Spaniards to the folklore and festivals of their home towns is an attractive part of their culture. But exaggerated localism is becoming a weakness. In the past teachers and other public servants would move around the country. Now they stay in their own region. Some companies find it difficult to recruit managers who are prepared to work abroad.

"Localism" is also a strength and a weakness in Northeast Ohio. A good example is this piece about Cleveland's supposed misplaced Youngstown-envy:

Cleveland and Youngstown are more alike than any Clevelander is willing to admit. Both are Rust Belt cities with dying economies. Both are looking for heroes anywhere they can find them - in government, the arts, in sports. What has engendered such a worshipful response to Pavlik is not just the tangible things that he does for Youngstown - keeping his business there, staying at the same gym he grew up practicing in, drinking at the local dive bar - but also the fact that he looks like Captain Youngstown. He's the living symbol of a dead past that everyone hopes will come back. We do that here too. We like to believe Cleveland can be saved by puffing out its chest and isolating itself from the globalizing effects of capitalism, somehow saying, "We have everything we need here."

What Pavlik means to Youngstown and what the Steelers mean to Pittsburgh can be both a blessing and a curse. The critique is that this nostalgia keeps the region from moving forward. Read the comments for this blog post and you might agree that Erie, PA is plagued by the same nemisis. Cleveland has a different kind of hero in LeBron James, a global icon, but the residents would rather have their own Pavlik (or a better Browns team).

I can understand why a writer would lament the lack of love for Mr. James. On a national stage, both Pavlik and the Pittsburgh Steelers reinforce the negative stereotypes of their respective cities. The blue collar iconography represents a time long since gone.

I see Pavlik in a different light. He could be Captain Cleveburgh. People throughout the Tech Belt can claim him as their own. Pavlik is a symbol of resilience and passion, the power of home. He is also the face of America's urban frontier and the intriguing irony of Rust Belt Chic. He is a hero of localism, not parochialism.

Finding a strong sense of place is not easy to do in McWorld. Check out the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Erie. Could someone in Cleveland take pride in Youngstown's Mill Creek Park? Pavlik represents that possibility.

Defend Cleveburgh!


The Urbanophile said...

I've noted that most Rust Belt cities seem to be populated with "lifers". When the percentage of people who are from "someplace else" reaches a high enough threshold, the hold of the past starts to weaken. I think one reason places like Denver are able to change and adapt so rapidly is that they have more people who aren't natives.

Most Rust Belt cities have not even considered attempting to lure people who have no historic connection there. Until that happens, and there is a critical mass of outside talent, I think it is hard to break out of the prison of the past.

Jim Russell said...

A phenomenon I've noted is the emergence of a city champion who is from someplace else, usually another Rust Belt locale. I think Rust Belt churn should be encouraged. The migration pathways are already in place.

It's good to go someplace else. It is also good to have a steady flow of newcomers. But mega-regional churn can help metro areas get some return on the investment in human capital. Regardless, getting "the stuck" out of Dodge is a good idea.