Will Doig writes in the online magazine Salon about “Rust Belt chic.” It seems that Rust Belt cities, including Cleveland, St. Louis, and Detroit, have been drawing young people in the 22 to 34 year-old demographic. These new settlers, according to the article, tend to be “knowledge economy” workers, drawn by the romance and trendiness of decay. Doig recognizes that the post-industrial cities have their difficulties, notably “failed schools, violent crime, and the threat of municipal bankruptcy,” but he thinks that hipness might be part of revitalizing cities.
This interested me because New Orleans today is often considered a very “hip” place, as well as one with pre-industrial, as well as post-industrial decay. And the city has in recent years been drawing heavily from that same age cohort of artists, urban farmers, and others who want to be cool in a trendy place. We seem to be pulling in even more of those folks since the big 2005 hurricane, so maybe there is a national fashion for decrepitude, a twenty-first century version of nostalgie de la boue.
The problem with this new population source for otherwise declining cities is that the young, arty people are almost by definition unattached, socially and geographically. They want the experience of living somewhere gritty, but the uprooted life is part of what attracts them. They’re not going to build any kind of lasting communities. They’re also going to grow up. When they do form families, a good place to hang out and be hip is not going to be at the top of their lists of priorities in choosing a place to live.