Monday, January 23, 2012

Rust Belt Chic Sudbury

Downtown needs rethought. It reads like Pittsburghese. Journalist Rob O'Flanagan is talking about the urban core of Sudbury, which reminds him of Pittsburgh:

I've lived in Guelph for nearly five years. Guelph, like so many southern Ontario towns, is quaint. It has limestone buildings -- there is no way to avoid quaint when you have limestone. Sudbury has granite and slag -- quaint is not Sudbury's reality. But the downtown, nestled as it is amidst those blackened hills, is actually quite beautiful in its own unique way. And from a certain height, it is really unlike anything I've seen anywhere -- except certain sections of breathtaking Pittsburgh, Pa.

Sudbury is dying. The city needs a makeover. What would Richard Florida do? O'Flanagan dismisses the usual angst about revitalization. Downtown has a "bad rap." Granite and slag is cool.

The Rust Belt Reset is mostly a matter of perception, a shift in urban aesthetic. Portland is out. Pittsburgh is in. Put a bird on it.

Leaving home helped me to appreciate the Rust Belt. I saw the wonders of other great cities, such as Seattle. I get the buzz about boomtown Denver. I prefer Pittsburgh. I see all Rust Belt cities through that lens.

I spent the better part of this morning trying to find an article that discussed the success of the Pure Michigan ad campaign.  I failed and I might be misremembering. Supposedly, tourism to the state increased. But so did state pride, among current residents and expats. Pure Michigan is an effective pep talk. The fresh eyes of an outsider has a way of making the familiar exciting, "Hey, Michigan doesn't suck!"

In almost every shrinking community, there is the brain drain that isn't. The data don't matter. Locals are convinced there is an exodus. People are leaving because the city broken. Downtown needs fixed.

That's one way to sell a boondoggle. The much cheaper alternative is to look at the urban core with fresh eyes, re-imagining both space and place. See the metaphorical blank slate, a frontier opportunity. Ruin porn. That's where revitalization starts.

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