A version of this originally appeared in Rust Wire.
I went on a boat ride a few days ago down Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River. I have not done this in decades. The images from the water struck me in ways I haven’t been struck for some time. People say there is nothing in ruin but ruin. Nothing in disinvestment but the possibility of exploitation. Let them see what they have to see.
There is a top and a bottom to every city, or a place on the proverbial up and up where the good life is said to be and places of abandonment where more subterranean shit happens. It is well known that the Rust Belt has the latter in spades. But what is less recognized is the fact that the next generation of everything always occurs out of eyeshot, or in those forgotten spaces where people are forced to stare at what was and no longer is. Said Aldous Huxley:
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
There is a lot of singing now about a Rust Belt renaissance. Folks all around the country are becoming aware of a certain energy blossoming that can’t be defined or manipulated or created or stopped. It is like the energy a seed has. But lest not think there wasn’t much legwork being done by the people who lived here and survived with everyone holding on as yet another bottom was falling out. This seemed like it went on for forty years. Because it has.
This brings to mind a passage in Rebecca Solnit’s in A Field Guide to Getting Lost. She states:
A city is built to resemble a conscious mind, a network that can calculate, administrate, and manufacture. Ruins become the unconscious of a city, its memory, unknown, darkness, lost lands, and in this truly bring it to life.
In that sense that work we did as a region was lost in the lights of every American urban success story. Now we live in times where even those are dubious. Experts on urbanism across the country are looking for geographies where the next generation of insights will occur. They are flocking like moths to our region’s awareness that: if it’s not fixed, fix it.
After all, ruins have always been just one part of us. And the rest is not just history.