Friday, February 04, 2011

Rust Belt Chic Google

The Rust Belt Chic trend recently popped up twice in Governing. The first reference comes from the mayor of Ventura, California. He makes mention of Greater Youngstown 2.0, a project I headed up designed to attract expatriates back to the region. More explicitly Rust Belt Chic, the editor of Governing notices the appeal of America's urban frontier:

Step aside Boston, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle. Sorry, but you’re just not cool anymore. These days, you need to have crumbling roads, triple-decker apartment buildings, old-fashioned neighborhood bars and lots of rust to gain any hipster cred. When Anthony Bourdain, host of the trendy travel and food show No Reservations, passes up Tuscany, Provence and Barcelona to visit Baltimore, Buffalo and Detroit, you know the Rust Belt has arrived.

The "rust is chic" movement has been around for a while, but thanks to blogs and online magazines, such as, a certain fascination with places that have fallen on hard times like the Rust Belt -- which stretches from the Midwest through the mid-Atlantic and up into the Northeast -- has taken hold. Part of it is the scruffy, industrial look. It may also be a rejection of cities with gleaming condo towers, bistros and boutiques that were once so trendy yet now seem so frothy and fake in the wake of the economic meltdown.

Civic boosters are beginning to understand the attractive assets sitting in their own backyards. These are the same cities that Richard Florida disparaged as not cool enough to keep talent from heading to Austin. Don't be Pittsburgh or you will lose the war for talent. He couldn't have been more wrong.

Google is a much better judge of what talent wants. The company is focused on the bottom line, not trying to sell the latest urban amenities boondoggle. Google has built a palace of Rust Belt Chic in the very city that inspired Creative Class theory:

Google is famous for forcing perfectly respectable people to work in studiedly zany offices -- themed ones, no less, whether it’s gondola lifts at Google Zurich or, as we saw recently, red telephone booths at Google London. So we were pretty wary when the architecture firm Strada sent us news of its freshly completed office for Google in Pittsburgh. We expected Terrible Towels in the bathroom and faux steel mills for meeting rooms. Happily, we were wrong. ...

... Strada did a good job of saying Pittsburgh without screaming it. The office fills the penthouse of a 100-year-old Nabisco factory, the history of which the architects took pains to spotlight. They left its guts raw, so you've got exposed pipes and peeled paint and gashes in the walls (from the gritty, rough-and-tumble Rust Belt work of making cookies).

Kudos to Google (and Strada) for passing muster with a design critic. Do check out the photos associated with the review. I think of the Pittsburgh office as a microcosm of what attracts talent to Rust Belt cities. The key is not following in the footsteps of Seattle or any other hipster boomtown with high marks in the Creativity Index. Cleveland already has what talent wants. It needn't hire Next Generation Consulting.

1 comment:

joe said...

Wonder if there's anything at Bakery Square that acknowledges it as the original site of the East End hotel and train station? (pre-Nabisco)