Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rust Belt Chic Goes Global

Thanks to Will Doig's post in Salon, "Rust Belt Chic" has gone viral over the past week. The term is new, appropriated from the xenophobic Marxist critiques of gentrification. Have a problem? Blame an outsider. The trend is much older. Introducing kojo moe:

These tours are part of an emerging niche tourist trade fuelled by kojo moe – “factory infatuation” – an enthusiasm that has taken root among young urbanites whose lives are increasingly remote from Japan’s manufacturing base. Apparently influenced by the popularity of glossy factory photography books published in the past decade, tourists and day-trippers now flock to appreciate the aesthetic charms of industrial installations – especially at night, when lights and flares add to their appeal.

In an illustration of what these enthusiasts are looking for, advertising for the Yokohama night trip includes among its top attractions a “large-scale iron mill”, a “captivating group of smokestacks” and a “intricate cluster of pipes”. ...

... In Europe, safely decommissioned mines and other industrial sites have already been rebranded as tourist attractions. Britain bristles with renovated mills and factories converted into art galleries, while Germany is energetically promoting its industrial heritage. One sprawling zone in the gritty Ruhr city of Duisburg has been transformed into a landscape park where visitors can scale concrete climbing walls or scuba dive in old gas tanks.

Remarking on a tourist fad will fan the flames of postcolonial anxiety. Whatever. I've lived in Vermont and suffered through the romanticization of family farms. What about all those damn hippies from New York City living out their commune fantasies in the poorest parts of the Northeast Kingdom? Go back home, flatlander and take your posters of Che Guevara with you. I hope Farm Aid helped you feel better about your conspicuous consumption.

Enough about hipster intellectuals and their exploitative escapades. I'm interested in why people migrate and how they choose where to move. Rust Belt Chic appeals to young urbanites around the world. Pittsburgh is cooler than Portland. I have a vision of Japanese tourists invading the Carrie Furnace Works. I see vacant neighborhoods being repopulated.

Both shrinking and growing cities pose challenges. I don't understand the hand wringing over artists from Providence moving to Pittsburgh and gentrifying some North Side neighborhood. We are rediscovering the splendor of our legacy cities. So what if anarchists are squatting in a robber baron's mansion?

Hipsters are place whores. Slackers quickly moved on from Austin. By the time you heard about the scene and made the migration, they were gone. Meanwhile, Austin boomed. The same thing is going on in the Rust Belt. Which city will blossom? My money is on Pittsburgh. I could be wrong. Regardless, take advantage of the Rust Belt Chic trend. Don't bitch about it.

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