The American Midwest: A Story Of Decay And (Eventual) Rebirth

The American Midwest: A Story Of Decay And (Eventual) Rebirth

The Midwest, its downfall, and how it can rise atop the pile again.

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"You know what the Midwest is? Young and restless." Kanye West once uttered those words to describe his environment in Chicago, but it almost feels like that could be applied to most, if not all, of the Midwest; young in age and restless in desire for change. A place once filled with burgeoning manufacturing industries, innovation, and unabated prosperity, now left behind by them and forced to ponder what can bring them back to glory and relevance nationally.

From Detroit and the automobile industry to Youngstown, Ohio and the steel industry, many cities and states have been left in ruins, as the rest of the industries that endeared themselves to the populace slowly departed for new lands. Cleveland? Down nearly 2/3 of its peak population. St. Louis has lost the greatest number of citizens as a percentage of its population since 1950. Detroit, the city on a hill, has lost one million since the 50's. Walter Mondale described this area as the "Rust Bowl," which would evolve into the Rust Belt, which comprises so much of the Midwest. The question is; what got us here?

First, let's define the Rust Belt, since it isn't the most well-defined phrase. Though used in a more derisive context, it is usually defined as the area from western New York (Buffalo) out to, St. Louis, Missouri and Iowa out west. This includes nearly, if not all, of the Midwest. This area used to be the engine of the country's economy; U.S. Steel, AK Steel, GM, Ford, Chrysler, and others called this area home, and many still do. This brought in a plethora of immigrants from overseas, as well as African-Americans (the Great Migration) who sought a better life away from the oppressive Jim Crow south.

This hodgepodge of individuals didn't work in harmony consistently (more on that later), but they certainly contributed to the economic boom that would define the area for decades to come. The area became defined not only by its industry, but the ethnic heterogeneity. The area prospered; at the 1950 Census, the following cities were in the top 20 cities by population; Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and Cincinnati. This is not even including cities such as Baltimore. Other small cities, such as Galesburg, Illinois, (Maytag Factory), Burlington, Iowa, and Youngstown, Ohio thrived as a result of their respective industries. To put it concisely, the area thrived. However, it was not to last.

There were many, many factors that led to this precipitous decline that continues today. Some of them are unique to cities, while others are more general. One of the most obvious phenomenon observed? Redlining, or the denial of services to African-Americans. This included loans, insurance, healthcare, and even access to supermarkets. This led many African-Americans to abandon their neighborhoods as businesses were unable to thrive, leading to lower population densities and shelters for those seeking to trade drugs and commit crimes and leaving those who stayed in dangerous conditions (this still happens today, FYI). There was also blockbusting, which was inherently linked to white-flight; white homeowners were encouraged to sell their homes at a loss because of the amount of black people moving in depressing their property values, and then proceeded to sell the properties to black people moving into the area at a mark-up, causing them to lose their money. This was fueled by white flight, where white citizens fled for the suburbs, removing a significant tax-base for the cities.

This doesn't even begin to touch on how cities lost industry to not only the suburbs, but other countries. A sad beginning to the decline to come.

And now, here we are. There are many ways this could be solved, one would hope. Though the cities would never decline enough to where they could disappear, losing a city as a key economic hub is damaging. Where does it all stem from? Loss of industry. So the question becomes this: what can we do here in the Rust Belt to bring jobs back? For some, it is easy; just spend what is invested. Dan Gilbert bought up much of downtown Detroit and renovated it, attracting people from out of state, which has actually led to people coming back to Detroit (per Census estimates, but still down from 2010).

Pittsburgh has oriented itself as a tech hub, which has slowed the decline. The problem is that most of these benefits, while benefiting the central business district and raising the prices in these areas, have not been passed along to poorer individuals in these cities. Many of the city services still have not improved for these individuals not living in the city center.

How do we pass along benefits not only to them, but also the smaller cities, such as Kenosha, Wisconsin? There are some proposals. Some involve grants being allocated to states that build environments conducive to start-ups. Others place immigrants in these particular cities for innovation's sake (similar to how refugees are placed). Some require the changing of the manufacturing still present; looking ahead to new technologies and building. Whatever it is, there has to be a solution somewhere.

I am a Rust Belt kid. I have essentially been one my entire life; I spent my years in a suburb tucked in between Dayton and Cincinnati, in a steel town called Middletown, before moving to St. Louis. While rugged, and not always aesthetically pleasing, this region is my home. These are the people I grew up with, the people that provided me with hope that the Rust Belt could cease rusting and somehow be restored. These people inspired me to write this. Not just to reverse the decline, but to bring back prosperity to people who live in the big and small cities, whether it be Detroit or Galesburg, Cleveland or Youngstown.

We will be back someday.


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For Camille, With Love

To my godmother, my second mom, my rooted confidence, my support

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First grade, March. It was my first birthday without my mom. You through a huge party for me, a sleepover with friends from school. It included dress up games and making pizza and Disney trivia. You, along with help from my grandma, threw me the best birthday party a 7-year-old could possibly want.

During elementary school, I carpooled with you and a few of the neighborhood kids. I was always the last one to be dropped off, sometimes you would sneak a donut for me. Living next door to you was a blessing. You helped me with everything. In second grade, you helped me rehearse lines for history day so I could get extra credit. In 4th grade, you helped me build my California mission.

You and your sister came out to my 6th grade "graduation". You bought me balloons and made me feel as if moving onto middle school was the coolest thing in the entire world.

While you moved away from next door, you were a constant in my life. Going to Ruby's Diner for my birthday, seeing movies at the Irvine Spectrum and just hanging out, I saw you all the time. During these times, you told me about all of the silly things you did with my mom and dad, how my mom was your best friend. I couldn't have had a greater godmother.

In middle school, you pushed me to do my best and to enroll in honors. You helped me through puberty and the awkward stages of being a woman.

Every single time I saw you, it would light up my entire day, my week. You were more than my godmother, you were my second mom. You understood things that my grandma didn't.

When you married John, you included me in your wedding. I still have that picture of you, Jessica, Aaron and myself on my wall at college. I was so happy for you.

Freshmen year of high school, you told me to do my best. I did my best because of you. When my grandma passed away that year, your shoulder was the one I wanted to cry on.

You were there when I needed to escape home. You understood me when I thought no one would. You helped me learn to drive, letting me drive all the way from San Clemente to Orange.

When I was applying to colleges, you encouraged me to spread my wings and fly. You told me I should explore, get out of California. I wanted to study in London, you told me to do it. That's why, when I study abroad this Spring in London, I will do it for you.

When I had gotten into UWT, you told me to go there. I did and here I am, succeeding and living my best in Tacoma. I do it for you, because of you.

When I graduated high school and I was able to deliver a speech during our baccalaureate, you cheered me on. You recorded it for me, so I could show people who weren't able to make it to the ceremony. You were one of the few people able to come to my actual graduation. You helped me celebrate the accomplishments and awards from my hard work.

When your cancer came back, I was so worried. I was afraid for you, I was afraid of what I would do without the support you had always given me. When I was in Rome, I went to the Vatican and had gotten a Cross with a purple gem in the middle blessed by the Pope to help you with your treatments. It was something from me and a little bit of my mom in the necklace, the gem.

Now, sitting so far from you away at college just like you wanted me to. I miss you. I wish I was there to say goodbye.

I'll travel the world for you, write lots of stories and books for you, I will live life to the fullest for you.

You are another angel taken too early in life. Please say hello to my parents and grandma in Heaven for me.

Lots of love,

Haiden

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Top 10 Things To Do In the United State's Capitol

This is your guide to a fun-filled weekend ing Washington, DC.

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There's never a dull moment in Washington, DC. From educational activities to festivals and fairs to nightlife there is always something to do for people of all ages. I've been living here in the city for a little over a year, and there is still so much to see that I haven't gotten to yet. This beautiful place is fun and exciting to visit during all times of the year, and I highly recommend spending at least two days in the Capitol of the United States.

The Smithsonian Museums  

One of the top reasons to come to Washington, DC is to visit the Smithsonian Museums. They're full of beautiful artwork, remembrance, and facts. Best of all- they're all free!

The Eastern Market

On Saturday mornings the best place to get breakfast is at the Eastern Market in southeast DC. In the spring, summer, and early fall the streets are full of tents with artwork, clothing, and furniture, and the inside is full of fresh food, flowers, and pop up stands.

The Wharf

One of my favorite places to hang out is at the Wharf on the Waterfront. There's restaurants, bars, and a pier of fresh seafood. Not looking to spend a lot of money? Grab an ice cream cone from Ben & Jerry's and grab a seat on the end of the pier around the fire pit.

The Anthem, 9:30 Club, Echo Stage

Want to dance the night away after spending the day touring the city? The Anthem, 9:30 Club, and Echo Stage are all great venues that host a wide variety of artists.

Smithsonian's National Zoo

Hop on the metro and within a half hour from the National Mall, you can be at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. It's free entry and it's a great place to spend your Saturday afternoon!

Happy Hour 

Throughout the entire city, you can find some of the best happy hour's Monday through Thursday starting at 4. Cheap beer and a ton of new friends!

Regal Cinema in Chinatown

The Regal Cinema in Chinatown is the best movie theater I have ever been to. You can order chicken fingers and french fries that are delivered right to your reclinable reserved seats! Nothing better. If your early for your movie and have time to kill, there is a bar with bowling and pool tables which is always a fun way to kill time with friends.

National Mall - At Night

Everyone always talks about going to the National Mall, but the best time to go is at night. Everything is lit up and it's beautiful! Best of all, not many people are hanging around so you have the entire place to roam around and sit and hang out with friends on the monuments.

Cherry Blossom Festival

The best part of Washington, DC is in the spring because the cherry blossoms are finally blossoming. People come from all around the world to see these beautiful trees that were gifted to us. In March, there are many events happening on the weekends such as live music, food trucks, and other activities.

Street Fairs

My favorite part of the city is that there is something always going on. Something I really love to go to include the street fairs and the festivals happening within the street. They're great places to learn about different cultures, eat yummy food, and buy local handmade goods from local vendors.

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