Defining Rust Belt Urbanism |


Here is a view of the Rust Belt. But as with definitions of the Midwest in general, people usually identify where they live in the region as its center.

The Rust Belt has been left for dead, at least economically, for the past fifty years. The broad area spanning the Northeast and Midwest of the United States, centered on the Great Lakes, has seen decades of economic austerity, emigration, unresolved racial tensions, and a growing sense of irrelevance—especially compared to the globally connected U.S. society. coastal cities and fast-growing Sun Belt cities. Some believe the Rust Belt should simply accept its diminished fate and fade into obscurity.

This perception has been internalized by many of the Rust Belt’s own residents. Those who remember the glory days of the Rust Belt are now mostly seniors. The region’s busy factories, which employ thousands of workers, have spread to countries around the world. Productivity gains and automation have further reduced dependence on low- and medium-skilled workers. There is an overriding feeling that, having suffered so much loss for so long, the future must also be bleak. And so people long for restoration, a return to what once was.

However, this has given rise to an alternative perspective. An increasing number of current Rust Belt residents are recognizing the region’s potential. They embrace the history of the region, but see opportunities in an uncertain future. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects that have defined this region for half a century, more and more people are praising the region’s assets and potential. This group has refused to accept the fate of a lost region. They gave rise to Rust Belt urbanism.

In his introduction to EIG as the new Legacy Cities Fellow, Akron, OH planner Jason Segedy eloquently described the Rust Belt’s past and present position in the hierarchy of American cities:

“Many cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Dayton, Detroit, Erie, Flint, Rochester, South Bend, Toledo and Youngstown have experienced incredible ups and downs over the past 150 years.

These cities were among the largest and fastest growing in the country during World War I. But after World War II, these cities entered a painful period of economic and social decline, as three national trends – the decline and outsourcing of manufacturing, regional emigration to the Sunbelt, and rapid suburbanization converged in these communities.”

The convergence of these trends created the Rust Belt we know today. But in the aftermath, these trends also created a new kind of American urbanism that had not previously surfaced. Rust Belt Urbanism was born.

Read the rest of this piece at The Corner Side Yard. (now at Substack)

Pete Saunders is a writer and researcher whose work focuses on urban planning and public policy. Pete has been editor/publisher of the Corner Side Yard, an urban planning blog, since 2012. Pete also contributes urban affairs to the Forbes Magazine online platform. Pete’s writings have been widely published in traditional and internet media, including the feature article in the December 2018 issue of Planning Magazine. Pete has more than twenty years of experience in planning, economic development and community development, with stops in the public, private and non -profit sector. He lives in Chicago.

Photo: courtesy of The Corner Side Yard, source: