Saturday, August 21, 2010
Thomas Shevory, Ithaca College
This blog is intended to be about all things deindustrial. A little background first: I grew up in Jamestown, New York, a factory town in the western part of the state. The year I graduated from high school, it received All-American City designation. By the time I graduated from college, four years later, it was undergoing a nearly complete economic collapse.
Jamestown was not a company town, entirely dependent upon one large employer or industry. Rather, it had a range of smaller firms. Most made furniture, but there were other enterprises as well. American Voting Machine had its headquarters there; Blackstone Corporation made appliances; Art Metal made office furniture; Marlin Rockwell, ball bearings; Crescent Tool, well, tools. So civic death by deindustrialization arrived a little more slowly than in some other places, but it arrived nevertheless.
Like most other cities in upstate New York, and along the American side of the Great Lakes, Jamestown still suffers these effects thirty-some years later. My mom has recently been trying to sell the house that I grew up in, a Sears kit house, and therefore of some architectural interest, for $38,000. It isn’t dilapidated. In fact, it’s in pretty good shape. No one looked at it for six months. The realtor recently told her that she should probably drop the price. Other houses in the neighborhood were going for about $15,000. Then she got lucky. Someone offered $29,900.
Much attention has been given to the housing bust in Las Vegas and Miami. But in large parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, no boom preceded it.
A number of years ago, I decided that I would try to track some of the public health and environmental histories and contemporary issues and that exist in this part of the country. It’s been a pretty wide open field, academically speaking. While deindustrialization generated a fair amount of attention at the outset, its longer implications and effects have never really caught fire as a field of study. What’s happening in the world’s growth sectors, or failed states, generates a greater sense of immediacy, and perhaps understandably so.
Yet the political, economic, and environmental trends that affect deindustrial America are inseparable from other global systems. And deindustrial America isn’t a static place, but embedded in an array of changing landscapes. Deindustrial spaces are a mirror against which the rise of China and India, for example, can be reflected. Such places, in turn, have their own deindustrial spaces. (See Wang Bin's epic film on China’s deindustrialization: West of the Tracks.)
The New York Times recently carried an article about the restoration of old neighborhoods in Syracuse, and the beginnings of what might be a small reversal in long-running negative demographic trends. And President Obama has been on a tour of deindustrial America: wind turbine factories in Ohio, automobile plants in Detroit. He contends that the green economy can resurrect it. Whether or not that’s true, it seems like a propitious moment to reconsider the evolving ecologies of deindustrialization in the U.S. and beyond.