Saturday, September 05, 2009

Abandoned American City Diaspora

A city is a great place to reinvent yourself. In that regard, urban (e.g. liminal spaces) and rural (e.g. wilderness) frontiers are more alike than different. Ghost Island, perhaps inadvertantly, reveals the thread running through the two landscapes:

The situation described here is of a particular moment in history, but is hardly without precedent. There have been abandoned structures since the inception of permanent architecture. The phenomenon of converting old lofts, factories, and warehouses into living, performance, and retail spaces is also well established. Still, in cities like Cleveland and Detroit, the availability of large amounts of extremely inexpensive real estate gives rise to the potential for creative and social experimentation on a scale and at a budget that is completely unthinkable in traditional cultural capitals like New York or San Francisco. With the pace of economic decline in many rust belt cities being quickened by financial crisis, in combination with the large number of unemployed people and free-lancers being priced out of more traditional creative hotbeds, the abandoned American city offers a possibility for radical life change and experimentation.

One of the suggested forms of social experimentation is the commune, which reminds me of Vermont. During the early 1970s, the bucolic Green Mountains captured the imagination of urban dwellers, primarily in New York City. The violent 1960s sparked an exodus to the countryside where communal living would flourish. A good example of the legacy of this migration is Bread and Puppet in Glover, VT.

To offer up another one of my half-baked hypotheses, this realignment of talent may have planted the seeds for cities such as Boulder, CO to one day emerge as a hotbed of innovation. I'm curious if Silicon Valley followed a similar trajectory. I think that dominant economic geography has played itself out. The new frontier are the ghost islands of the Rust Belt.

1 comment:

? said...

The fate of shrinking cities is linked to the larger collapse of the American working class since the early 1980's. The manufacturing era is ending and there are no jobs on the horizon to replace them. Unless this situation is handled on the federal level, there is no hope for the 'Rust Belt.' No jobs equal the collapse of the tax base which equals the collapse of cities and regions. So far, the government has not taken any serious steps to combat the collapse of American cities.