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Will Generation Y Drive a Rust Belt Redux?

In search of cheap rent and an urban experience with some <em>bona fide</em> street cred, young people are making the move out to the Rust Belt, Will Doig reports.
May 17, 2012, 10am PDT | Ryan Lue
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Facing economic challenges of historic proportions, some youngsters are leading the move back to the old manufacturing powerhouses of the Midwest. Young people (anywhere between 18- and 34-years-old) have been bucking the trend of decline in Rust Belt cities from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, from St. Louis to Detroit.

Part of the shift, of course, has to do with affordability – in 2009, the median price of a home in Detroit was $7,500 – but for many, it has just as much to do with the edgy image of urban decay.

"I think there's a backlash in the American psyche that's longing for that," says Cleveland native Richey Piiparinen. "Look at Miami. We've learned that all that glitters isn't gold." 

But Doig warns that "Rust Belt Chic," as Piiparinen calls it, must be taken with a dose of realism: it's "at least partly a romantic fantasy, and that makes it a risky way to try to revitalize. Last year, Guernica magazine ran a withering critique of what it called 'Detroitism,' the fetish for crumbling urban landscapes mixed with eccentric utopian delusions, 'where bohemians from expensive coastal cities can have the $100 house and community garden of their dreams.' What these dreams seldom include, however, are the almost unimaginable systemic problems many of these cities suffer from: failed schools, violent crime, the threat of municipal bankruptcy."

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Published on Saturday, May 12, 2012 in Salon
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