The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

Repost: Worlds Within Worlds


(Note: I’ve been writing a lot recently about the growing fragmentation of our metro areas and its impact on our society as a whole.  Then I realized I’ve been writing about this in some form or another for some time.  In the near future I’ll explore some ways that maybe the planning profession can address this — since it seems few professions are willing to address it — but until then, here’s a repost from the early days of this blog (just 18 months ago) that speak to this same concern.  Enjoy and have a great Thanksgiving. -Pete)

I read this article on the other day and it made a lot of sense to me.  I think it illustrates a problem in many Rust Belt cities.  The author talks about the fact that Cleveland is a metro area made up of two separate and competing worlds.  Quoting from the article: 

World 1—Younger Clevelanders who grew up here, particularly on the west and south sides. Some description: late 20s to 30s.  Many Catholic—be it through Polish, Irish, Slovakian, Italian, or whatever descent. Despite the rumors of a mass exodus most of them haven’t left. But those that grew up in the city have largely moved to the suburbs. Those that grew up in inner-ring suburbs have mostly moved farther out. A few buck the trend and move closer to the core—in Tremont, Downtown, but they’re anomalies. Some have stayed put.  As for attitude, work—the indigenous are closer to the Baby Boomers than they are their actual age. They are in many ways an extension of a legacy city threaded forward into the present, complete with naysaying about how Cleveland has fallen (though they only knew it on its knees)—complete with manufacturing and union ties, cop and fireman ties…

 World 2—Clevelanders who grew up elsewhere, be it out of Ohio, in Ohio, but not considered from here (granted being considered “from here” is–by the indigenous–a pretty small radius). Some description: no coalescing ethnic or religious descent—a mix of everything, nothing. They live in the core, be it city neighborhoods, Downtown, or inner ring suburbs. Cleveland is more about today to them, with the legacy ties tethered mainly to their chagrin that there’s a legacy still weighing the city down. But they appreciate the city’s past, especially it’s built past. They form Facebook groups about a lot, like micro-lending and historical preservation and bike advocacy and outings. There’s a lot of biking overall—doing it, talking about it. And the newcomers have an entrepreneurial spirit, with start-ups and worker co-ops defining the day as opposed to structured times and static work stations. Urban planning to them doesn’t arouse shrugs—like with their indigenous counterparts—but is rather part of the day, like finding food.  This is partly why they are attracted to Cleveland I am told, for it’s a real city with a real history, but with an opportunity to do real shit. 

I don’t know Cleveland.  I’ve been through there only a couple times in my life, but I saw enough to show me that it shared a lot with Detroit and Chicago, two cities I’m intimately familiar with.  And in both of those cities this same dynamic rings true.  Oldtimers from the old neighborhood who tsk-tsk about the fall of their city, and newcomers who have no memory or connection with the past that oldtimers hold onto.  What separates the newcomers from the oldtimers is their belief in what lies ahead for the city — they believe in a future for the city, one the oldtimers could never create on their own.

While I think there’s a lot of truth to this dynamic, I think there are other “Worlds” that aren’t accounted for. 

World 3 — the minority middle class citizens of the Rust Belt who believe in the future of their city and have staked their claim through homeownership.  Many are teachers, post office workers, healthcare workers, midlevel public sector workers, and they’re waiting for the revitalization they see happening in World 2 to reach them.  And they’re impatient about it.

World 4 — the minority “underclass” that’s had so much written about it.  Poor, poorly educated, lacking job skills, and struggling with life on a daily basis.

World 5 — the minority blue-collar, working-class Rust Belt citizens who work in fast-food restaurants, auto repair shops, corner stores and the like, trying to find a way to make it through the day, week and month.  They’re the “left behind”: they likely viewed high school with ambivalence and once thought there would be good factory jobs that they’d be able to latch onto after graduation.  Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out that way.  They might know that there are jobs in the suburbs they could make some decent money with, but there are physical and psychological barriers that may prevent them from obtaining them.  And honestly, with the right breaks they can move pretty easily between worlds 3 and 4.

I’m sure there are more, but my point is that we look at all aspects of the multifaceted worlds of our metro areas.

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