Words by Evan Harms

A while ago, I read an article from Belt Magazine (a publication in many ways responsible for the creation of this blog) about “The City-States of The Rust Belt.” The author (as well as founder and publisher of Belt Magazine), Anne Trubek, talks about how she once viewed the Rust Belt as one interconnected mass, but eventually found otherwise through anecdotal evidence.

These days, I see it as a series of separate city-states, self-contained units looking inward, with the outer ring suburbs serving as a sort of moat. Or, as it appears on my Google Analytics dashboard, a series of large orange dots, with nothing, including transportation, connecting them,” Trubek writes.

Trubek goes on to cite people’s hypocritical nature in exploring cities around them — Clevelanders avoid Detroit because of poverty and murder, Yinzers stay away from Cleveland for the same reason. This cycle builds up, fused with “civic inwardness” and ultimately leaves a large portion of urban Midwesterners isolated in their own cities.

 

A map of major Midwestern cities used in the polling for this article — it’s not all-encompassing.

Like Trubek, my family has placed an emphasis on exploring our closest neighbors, so I sought to collect a little data on how we travel and explore the cities around us.

I conducted two polls. On Facebook, I asked individuals to comment which major Midwestern cities they’ve visited. On Twitter, I set up a poll that asked for a strictly quantitative response, choosing between 1-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10+ cities. I received 32 total responses, and I was actually somewhat surprised with the results.

Akron, Cleveland and Columbus tied for the most visited — I’m assuming because all are in the same general vicinity of those who responded, so we can consider those a “home base.” The next highest is Pittsburgh, followed by Youngstown. You can read as the list goes on, but this is in line with some of Trubek’s thoughts (Detroit has a relatively low frequency), but Pittsburgh is the most visited “non-home” cities, which contradicts part of her argument.

The Twitter poll reveals that people have in fact traveled around the region — the amount of people who have visited ten or more major Midwestern cities is 32 percent.

Now, I’m very aware of the potential biases of this poll — the majority of the respondents are college-age individuals, many of them involved in music. This means they may have traveled while on tour with their own band or on a road trip to see another — not that this makes their trips any less valuable, but it does explain why some people have visited a large number of cities. I’m also aware that this system of polling doesn’t account for frequency, length or quality of any given trip.

Yet, the data gathered is still interestingly incongruous to Trubek’s thesis.

Trubek certainly knows much more about the nuances of the Rust Belt than I, but this little smackerel of data shows that at least among a certain group of young people, we are branching out in ways that perhaps older generations have not. The internet gives us connections to people across the world, so why wouldn’t we be interested in finding friends in our nearest hubs of art, music and culture that are really only hours away?

Her point, though, is still applicable. We might travel more, but I’ve found (anecdotally and observationally) that these individuals have a strong sense of hyper-local pride. Even as a resident of Kent via Cleveland, I make sure I’m not lumped in with Akronites, and Akronites make sure they’re not pooled with true Clevelanders. These city-states define us, absolutely.

You can almost always catch me wearing some sort of Cleveland t-shirt, whether it be Metroparks, RTA, Sterle’s, Sokolowski’s, some bands, and all other sorts of gear representing my hometown.

Trubek’s “City-States” are undoubtedly real, but what’s to say we can’t explore one another’s?