After “The Incident”, I have had to fend off a cacophonous load of crap from folks about where I’m from and my love for blue-collar towns that are often known more for job loss and decline then for art, creativity, entreprenuerism, and great architecture. But I took a vaulable lesson a way from these conversation held most often with folks who have never stepped foot in the towns they lambasted–Cleveland, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, the D (Detroit, duh).
Simply put–we have a PR problem.
P-Burgh PR is probably in the best shape of all of them. Championship rings make it easy to avoid tons of stories in the paper about the fact that it has the same job loss, decaying and declining property values, and a deafening decline in population within the city limits (212,000 according to the 2008 ACS survey) just like its neighboring rust belt towns. Outside of Football, Pittsburgh has probably also done one of the best jobs of bringing live, work, play, to downtown that has seen little vibrancy until the last 10 years.
Then there is Baltimore. Most famous for crabcakes and the Inner Harbor and just as infamous for its 35,000 vacant homes, 5,000 vacant lots, and summed up with all its problems on HBO’s the Wire. But Bmore may be the Mid-Atlantic bastion of creativity. Baltimore is attracting artists in droves. The Maryland Institute College of Art has grown from a local art school to a regional powerhouse. Every summer there is Art Scape–the biggest outdoor art festival on the East Coast. There are creative non-profits that are taking neighborhoods block by block and offering low-cost financing to attract potential homeowners to neighborhood that are showing signs of positive growth. And every city that is trying to attract new residents is trying to replicate Live Baltimore.
Detroit, though these days more famous for the pheasants returning to reclaim nature and its many neighborhoods that have looked like war zones since the riots in 1968, has developed a small but well publicized creative movement. Amongst the rubble that is unavoidable is a movement called The Soup–it is essentially a group of creative types who come together to hear about potential projects and then vote on which project gets the collection of funds that were collected at the door to give the project a jump start. Additionally, there are things like the underground restaurant tours–people who have made restaurants in home and other spaces around town. And let’s not forget something Detroit is most famous for–love and pride for the hometown and that goes along way.
And let’s talk a bit about Cleveland (Yeah, yeah before you tell me how the damn Cuyahoga river burned 40 years ago (it seems NYC gets away with all kinds of river related foolishness–but that’s neither here nor there–sorta.), lets just move on. )
The late 20th century marked Cleveland as the “comeback city”. Smart planning, business attraction, and an expansion of public transportation, led by a no-nonsense mayor (the jury is still out on the honorable Mr. White, though) and a dedicated group of planners, non-profit developers, and community folks who were committed to the city. It was first the economic slowdown after 9-11 and then the foreclosure crisis that turned progress on its head. Yet, it slogs on and continues to receive accolades for its response to the on-slaught of bad economic news that comes its way. In the last 12 months, Cleveland has recieved design and planning awards for its “Re-imagining Cleveland” charrettes to help shrink the footprint of the city. Its rapid bus lane running down the busy corridor of Euclid has recieved transportation awards, and Anthony Bourdain loved it so much he blogged about it and said he even dreams about life there. (Too bad Clevelanders seem to have lost their sense of pride and prefer “whoa is us”–not so great for helping the image.)
I guess my question is, how can these city’s pick up there image, dust it off, and give it a new shine, in the day and age of attention spans the length of a tweet or status update? Leave your comments below and I will surely respond.