"The first time Gene Roberts fell into the Cuyahoga River, he worried he might die. The year was 1963, and the river was still an open sewer for industrial waste. Walking home, Mr. Roberts smelled so bad that his friends ran to stay upwind of him."
"Recently, Mr. Roberts returned to the river carrying his fly-fishing rod. In 20 minutes, he caught six smallmouth bass. 'It's a miracle,' said Mr. Roberts, 58. 'The river has come back to life.'" (Maag, 2009, p. 18).
Life, indeed. River restoration, ecological repair, and a generational re-negotiation of the meanings of human-nature relations. June 22, 2009 is "the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river's surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train. ... it became a galvanizing symbol for the environmental movement, one of a handful of disasters that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and to the passage of the Clean Water Act. ... The fire turned Cleveland into 'The Mistake by the Lake,' a national punchline that would endure for decades. Meanwhile, the city worked to reclaim its river." (Maag, 2009, p. 18).
And yet what has been lost as the skies have cleared, as the storm-water systems were rebuilt, as the oil sludge was cleaned up, as the river began to run clean once again? The skies cleared over Cleveland -- and dozens of other industrial cities. Local environments have become much cleaner for the large manufacturing megalopoli as well as the small-town factory furnaces scattered across the broad "manufacturing belt" of the North-Central U.S. and South-Central Canada. Some of this improvement came from improved efficiencies in industrial processes and prudent regulation. But most of the air and water quality gains came from the diffusion and disappearance of the industrial city itself. From 1960 to 1990, Cleveland's population dropped from almost 915 thousand to less than 574 thousand (Margulis, 1996, p. 165). The city's manufacturing job base, over 171 thousand in 1965, slipped by 40 thousand jobs in just five years (Margulis, 1996, p. 169). Between 1970 and 1980, Cleveland lost almost 35,000 blue-collar jobs and 25,280 clerical and sales positions (Kasarda, 1989). As those jobs disappeared, so did all the opportunities they represented for (comparatively) easy entry for young people entering the labor force and seeking to work their way up the job-ladders of wage increases that promised a chance to live a lower-middle class life. By 1980, Cleveland's manufacturing job base was just over half what it was in 1965 (Margulis, 1996, p. 169). For a time, of course, Cuyahoga County and other suburban jurisdictions gained employment while the hemorrhage continued in central-city Cleveland. But soon enough the losses would percolate through restructuring and job shifts at the regional scale with the rise of the 'right to work' states in the Southeast and the Sunbelt, then to the continental scale with the expansion of the Maquiladora corridor in northern Mexico, then at the global scale with scores of ruthlessly efficient factories across China woven into a transnational industrial urban system.
Cleveland's population has been in decline for six consecutive decades. The city's population, now about 430,000, is less than half the peak attained in the early 1950s. The six-county metropolitan area lost almost 60,000 people between 2000 and 2008 (Schneider, 2009, p. B6).
But even as early as 1969, this wave of deindustrialization had created a remarkable paradox. As David and Richard Stradling emphasize, the meaning of a fire on the river had much to do with the distance and vantage point from which it was seen. The Cuyahoga caught fire at least nine times before 1969, but "Press coverage of the earlier fires focused on economic issues," and the threat to the Cuyahoga flats with its "docks, railroads, warehouses, and refineries [that] were essential to the city's well-being. By 1970s, however, as the 1969 fire story evolved, the flats were rapidly emptying, as were nearby neighborhoods. No longer did most Clevelanders make their living near the industrial river. From a greater physical and psychological distance, then, the burning river looked much more troubling than it had close up in an earlier era." This distance -- simultaneously material, symbolic, and physical -- came in large part at the expense of the working class, and had severe, disproportionate effects on those who had most recently managed to begin working their way into the comparatively stable, upper working class (especially African Americans). The new "postindustrial sensibilities" diagnosed by the Stradlings might very well have been indistinguishable from the Grand American Amnesia, the ubiquitous forgetting of how to talk about social class and class inequality.
Mckee (2004, p. 66) notes that "In an obscure footnote to his groundbreaking study of deindustrialization in Detroit, Thomas J. Sugrue notes that 'the history of industrial renewal in postwar American cities is still largely unwritten.'..."; Indeed, there is so much work to do! "Historians have carefully explored the problems of low-income housing provision, redlining, and urban racial conflict, as well as the destructive consequences of federally subsidized highway construction, urban renewal, and suburbanization. With only limited exceptions, however, few scholars have examined the history of local policy strategies that addressed the disappearance of urban manufacturing jobs." (McKee 2004, p. 66.) McKee analyzes this history for the case of Philadelphia, and there have been considerations by eminent scholars for Cleveland (see Warf and Holly, 1997; Margulis, 1997, and other chapters of the Peacefull edited collection). Ultimately, however, local, regional, and even state-level strategies to address the disappearance of urban manufacturing jobs were doomed to failure: the national-level shifts in tax and investment policies were simply too strong, and encouraged the development of far-flung transnational production, distribution, and investment networks that made it impossible for the twentieth-century industrial city to survive as such, as anything built on the economics of manufacturing.
Industrial cities like Cleveland had to remake themselves, and this process of reconstruction has introduced two contradictions. First, the accelerated deindustrialization of the American city has reinforced the widespread consensus that we all live in a thoroughly postindustrial society -- while China's cities explode into the most dramatic industrial evolution the world has ever seen. Broad labels like "postindustrial" work only if we ignore geography. Our world is a rich and fine-grained mixture of the new and the old, the large and the small. We live in a world shaped by modernity, pre-modernity, and post-modernity; pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial eras; and local, regional, national, and transnational experiences and identities.
Second, the shift from economic development strategies premised on production to consumption has been the cause and effect of rising inequality. For all of its faults, environmental and otherwise, the mid-twentieth century industrial city was built on the assumption that urban competitiveness required producing useful things -- preferably innovative things that few other places were able to produce. In the climate of Keynesian economic principles and comparatively strong state and legal support for organized labor, this competitive production tended to create job structures that promoted convergence in income and wealth among vast sections of the labor force. Today, the competitive and innovative impulse survives in many places. But it has been perverted by a new political consensus that has weakened workers' rights, undermined social welfare rights, and encourages consumption in ways that re-define productive activity. When the tangible elements of useful products, and increasingly the skilled services required to understand, use, and fix these products is outsourced to China, India, and elsewhere, then what exactly is the function of corporate America? Is anything useful done here?
For years, free-market evangelists offered clear, convincing answers to these questions. "We provide high-tech expertise," said the booming, confident deep voice of the American free-market capitalist. When the high-tech expertise was shipped off elsewhere to save on labor costs, the answers changed. "We provide the advanced services that are at the very leading, bleeding edge of the product life cycle," said the voice. "We do what nobody else can do, before they can do it. We design the new products, craft the new market strategies, work out the details of transnational legal and regulatory frameworks, map out the advertising and marketing campaigns, and design the new financial mechanisms that leverage business to achieve greater profit margins."
Even when cities attract the "command and control" functions associated with global-city status, they also wind up with a lot of low-level service jobs: cashiers, maids, nannies, cab-drivers, delivery couriers, dish-washers, waiters and waitresses, and many other people who work very hard for low pay -- and in jobs that provide few opportunities to move up the ladder for better pay, better job security, or (the coin of the realm for life in on-your-own America) health insurance. Compared to the old industrial city, the new city of "advanced" services is quite an unequal place.
In 2007, a credit crisis began to spread throughout the American economy, and by late 2008 mushroomed into the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This crisis showcased the predictable (and predicted) consequences of ideologies that privilege a culture of de-regulated, free-market "innovation" without recognizing the distinction between means and ends. Drug-dealing, contract murder, and terrorism all require a lot of innovation. So do credit default swaps, debt-leveraged hostile takeovers and corporate mergers, and corporate reorganizations specifically crafted to evade tax liabilities and public responsibilities. If this is what the new innovative city is all about, then shouldn't we re-think some of the merits of the old city of production?
Fortunately, there are quite a few academics and activists who are doing just that -- working to re-think ways of remaking the old city of production, and to put specific plans into action. Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Thad Williamson (2010) document an exciting and innovative movement that has recently emerged in Cleveland, drawing inspiration from the Mondragon Cooperative movement in Spain's Basque country. This new movement combines several elements: the development of small and strategically-targeted companies specializing in green industrial practices, the use of worker-owned co-operative structures to democratize business ownership and profits, and the integration of local economic development policies that draw on theoretical knowledge of industrial clusters and localized industrial districts. Alperovitz, Howard, and Williamson provide illuminating case studies of a new industrial laundry facility targeting the expanding hospital and health-care complexes in Northern Ohio, a co-operative firm installing solar roof panels, and a large urban greenhouse catering to the increasingly popular local-food movement. Many community activists concerned with the struggles of economic development in poor neighborhoods in deindustrialized cities are beginning to speak of the "Cleveland Model," and Alperovitz and his colleagues are encouraged that "The model takes us beyond both traditional capitalism and traditional socialism."
"...critical to the health of Cleveland is predicted job losses in all occupational categories in the city's neighborhoods. Both relative and absolute job losses are expected. Moreover, neither downtown Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, nor the [metropolitan region] can be counted on to provide replacement jobs. If regional outmigration does not transpire, a job shortfall is imminent, with serious consequences for displaced, unskilled, and functionally unemployed workers." (Margulis, 1996, p. 170).
"In the 1930s, when most people in Cleveland worked in factories, a fire on the river was considered just a nuisance. ... By the 60's, there was a hunger for symbols of humans' insensitivity to the environment," and the 1969 Cuyahoga fire provided a bright, vivid national icon. Jonathan Adler, Case Western Reserve University, quoted in Christopher Maag (2009). "From the Ashes of '69, a River Reborn." New York Times, 21 June, p. 18.
Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Thad Williamson (2010). "The Cleveland Model." The Nation, February 11-March 1 edition.
John D. Kasarda (1989). "Urban Industrial Transition and the Underclass." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 501(1), 26-47.
Christopher Maag (2009). "From the Ashes of '69, a River Reborn." New York Times, 21 June, p. 18.
Harry L. Margulis (1996). "Cleveland: Building the Great Lakes City of the Future?" In Leonard Peacefull, ed., A Geography of Ohio. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 165-176.
Guian McKee (2004). "Urban Deindustrialization and Local Public Policy: Industrial Renewal in Philadelphia, 1953-1976." Journal of Policy History 16(1), 66-98.
Keith Schneider (2009). "An Enclave of Entertainment in Cleveland." New York Times, July 8, B6.
David Stradling and Richard Stradling (2008). "Perceptions of the Burning River: Deindustrialization and Cleveland's Cuyahoga River." Environmental History 13(3).
Barney Warf and Brian Holly (1997). "The Rise and Fall and Rise of Cleveland." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 55, May, 208-221.
Copyright 1960 Robert S. Wyly
Copyright 1960 Robert S. Wyly
For high-resolution versions of these images, see clv01.jpg through clv18.jpg, in the cityimage directory.
All images copyright 1960 Robert S. Wyly.
In June, 1960, Robert S. Wyly traveled to Cleveland for a professional conference. As he recalls, it was a meeting of the American Society of Sanitary Engineers. Robert often tried to find a few hours away from his conference obligations while traveling, and always tried to see a bit of the city. Most times he brought his camera. This time he went to the observation deck at the top of the Terminal Tower complex, and took a series of Kodachrome slides from nearly every direction. His lens and his eye caught "the quintessential blue-collar, working-class American city" at its peak, before the "massive and traumatic deindustrialization" of a region and a city "thoroughly restructured around the prerequisites of post-Fordism." (Warf and Holly, 1997, p. 208). About forty-five years later, I discovered these rare and valuable snapshots of a city -- a particular concentration of society and space, of people, place and time -- that no longer exists. Viewing these images today, with the full knowledge of all of our understanding of what deindustrialization has meant for the last half-century, is enlightening, fascinating, and sobering.
"Coal and steel and steam were the foundations of Cleveland's 20th-century rise to a prosperous city of nearly one million people .... But today the city is much, much smaller, and its economy relies more on good food, drink, and experiences. This is highly apparent along 450 feet of East Fourth Street, site of a 600,000 square-foot mixed-use historic redevelopment that The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the city's major newspaper, has characterized as 'the jewel of Cleveland's entertainment district.'" Keith Schneider (2009). "An Enclave of Entertainment in Cleveland." New York Times, July 8, B6.
"The Cleveland experiment is in its infancy, with many miles to go and undoubtedly many mistakes to make, learn from and correct. On the other hand, as New Deal scholars regularly point out, historically the development of models and experiments at the local and state levels provided many of the principles upon which national policy drew when the moment of decision arrived. It is not too early to get serious about the Clevelands of the world and the possible implications they may have for one day moving an economically decaying nation toward a new economic vision." Gar Alperovitz, Ted Howard, and Thad Williamson (2010). "The Cleveland Model." The Nation, February 11-March 1 edition.
Almost a half-century to the day since Robert S. Wyly went to the top of the terminal tower, I tried to do the same, to update some of the images. After a flight from Hong Kong to Chicago for a conference in Valparaiso, Jatinder and I managed to reserve an extra day for wandering around Chicago ... or, perhaps a bit farther. How about Cleveland? How far is that? Oh, about three hours or so. Five hours later, Jatinder was horrified to discover that geographers don't have licenses, and thus mine could not be revoked. Sadly, the Terminal Tower was still closed, in that long, ongoing nightmare of parochial paranoia in post-9/11 America. The security guards told me that there were plans to re-open the observation deck at some point, though. Off to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame instead. We only had ninety minutes, so we moved at the pace of the average contemporary music video.
A few months later, however, stubborn resolve finally paid off. A trip through Chicago and Gary, Indiana brought temptations to go to Cleveland for a day before heading for an expedition in Detroit with Dan Hammel and Mark Davidson. I had booked an appointment for a flight over the city, from the Burke lakefront airport; it's more affordable than one might anticipate. But security concerns persisted: this time it was a TFR, a temporary flight restriction imposed outward beyond a four-mile radius from downtown Cleveland. Joe Biden was in town for a fundraiser. Larry, my gregarious pilot, drove me out to the County airport instead, and we ventured southwards towards Youngstown. Still ... what if I waited just an hour or two longer, until the TFR was lifted? Finally! Another kind pilot, Jennifer, finally took me up and got permission from the control tower to circle over downtown, so long as we avoided another Cessna pulling an advertising banner. "We don't get to fly over downtown very often," she said; "It's only when we have someone who wants to do something like a photo-shoot that we can go into that airspace." Finally, I could update some of the images of Cleveland half a century after those iconic shots of the mid-century, mid-continental industrial powerhouse. The images are clear and sunny, and therefore perhaps a little bit deceptive. The real story is one of the counterfactual, of what cannot be seen: there's no smoke, and yet that also means all those jobs are gone. The postindustrial service economy hasn't made up for all that was lost, all that was actively destroyed.