Dyer, Joyce. Goosetown: Reconstructing an Akron Neighborhood. Akron, Ohio; The University of Akron Press, 2010.

Dyer’s Goosetown is a kind of sequel to her memoir Gum-Dipped (2003), the story of her childhood growing up, mostly, in the Firestone Park neighborhood of Akron of the 50s and 60s. It is a sequel in the sense that it was chronologically written after the first work. But the two works are fundamentally opposites. Where Gum-Dipped was told more from the author’s memory, Goosetown is a collection of things forgotten. This makes for an intriguing read. The style is not experimental in confusing the reader, but Dyer is able to craft a story out of a handful of divergent family lore and the memories of surviving family from the neighborhood.

For Dyer’s mother’s family Goosetown was the “old neighborhood.” It is where she spent the first five years of her life and it was the neighborhood her mother’s generation left for greener pastures. The general premise of the story is that Dyer visits the remnants of the neighborhood (along Grant Street from Exchange to where Interstate 76/77 exists today) with her uncle Paul, who grew up in and lived the early years of his marriage in the now lost/changed community. Continue reading

Small, Gritty, and Green and Beyond the Metropolis

Tumber, Catherine. Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World. Cambridge, Massachusetts; The MIT Press, 2012.

Ofori-Amoah, Benjamin, ed.  Beyond the Metropolis: Urban Geography as if Small Cities Mattered. Lanham, Md.; University Press of America, 2007.

In Richard Florida’s recession book, The Great Reset, he makes the observation that “Greater Detroit’s regional unemployment was not the highest in Michigan; unemployment was higher in the smaller cities of Flint and Monroe. The same was true in Ohio, where unemployment was worse in Akron, Canton, Toledo, Youngstown, and Mansfield than in Cleveland.”  In the so-called post-industrial society, this does beg the question of what will become of smaller cities and towns built-up for manufacturing when convenient locations near water or Interstate highways take the back seat to educated workforces, or serving those educated workforces who will live in the megapolises of the future.  Two recent books put the smaller cities place now and into the future into perspective.  Catherine Tumber’s Small, Gritty, and Green, takes stock of the resources that smaller cities have and imagines possibilities for success in the green economy of the future.  Beyond the Metropolis tries to give an academic overview of what small cities are and what they are doing.  Each title makes a point that smaller cities have generally been overlooked in literature.  Also, each book talks in detail about at least of few Ohio municipalities.

Tumber defines a small city as being between 50,000 and 500,000 residents and she is mostly interested in older cities (for the United States) located in the Northeast and the rusty parts of the Midwest.   This definition includes all cities outside of New York, Boston, and Chicago (much discussion surrounds Detroit).   In Ohio, she touches base with several cities, but most discussion is about Youngstown and the Youngstown 2010 citywide plan.  There is also some love for Akron and the Don Plusquellic administration. Continue reading

Industrial Sunset

High, Steven. Industrial Sunset: The Making of North America’s Rust Belt, 1969-1984. Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 2003.

The emptying of the mythical heart of the United States — and the birth of the Rust Belt and Rust Belt labels — signalled the decrepitude of the heavily industrialized states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.  (192)

Somewhere between the terms Frost Belt and Sun Belt there was the Rust Belt.  The Rust Belt has been having a revival lately, with pretty much a weekly wire story about Detroit and its ailments.  Of course, Detroit and the “industrial heartland” that is often referred to as the Rust Belt has been taking hard knocks for decades. Though products of different diseases, the hard times of today has resonance with the Rust Belt saga.  On a similar note, the Great Depression is also appearing in the non-fiction section.

There are varying descriptions of what geography entails the rusted over country.  Some descriptions include mainly the Great Lakes region, while others include more of the mid-Atlantic states with cities such as Utica, Trenton, and Baltimore.  Either way, Ohio is firmly a part of the Rust Belt, though Cincinnati and Columbus may or may not make the cut.  (Cincinnati is sometimes too South and not automobile-and-steel-manufacturing centric enough, and Columbus is often included with the Sun Belt cities.)   Continue reading

Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown

Safford, Sean. Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt. Cambridge, Massachusetts; Harvard University Press, 2009.

The title of Sean Safford’s Why your Garden Club Could not save Youngstown is not in jest.  This book truly is an attack on the Garden Club of Youngstown.  It is commonly believed that economic factors beyond the municipality’s control led to its economic demise in the late 1970s (it was known in the 1950s that manufacturing steel in Youngstown cost 55% more than in nearby Cleveland).  But Safford argues that economies like Youngstown did not necessarily have to devolve over the last few decades.

The author uses the steel-dominated Allentown region, the Lehigh Valley, as a foil to the Mahoning Valley.  He argues that in 1970, Allentown and Youngstown were very similar in terms of economic concentration, access to markets, education, state and federal policy, and even histories.  Today, Allentown is now one of the fastest growing cities in Pennsylvania.  Youngstown population in 2010 has dropped to under 67,000, less than half of its peak of 170,000 in 1930.  Why Allentown?  All of Youngstown’s social connectivity was tied up in the Garden Club.   Continue reading

A Little More Freedom

Blocker, Jack S.  A Little More Freedom: African Americans Enter the Urban Midwest, 1860-1930.  Columbus, Ohio; The Ohio State University Press, 2008.

Though the title refers to 1860 to 1930, the bulk of A Little More Freedom covers the years leading up to the Great Migration (sometimes referred to the First Great Migration from approximately 1915 to the Great Depression.  The Second Great Migration would refer to the years 1940 through 1970) of southern African-Americans to northern cities.  The big question Blocker puts out is why the migration pattern switched from African-Americans moving to small towns and cities predominately prior to 1890 and then almost exclusively to larger urban centers (cities of over 100,000 people in 1900 — in Ohio, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo).

Reading the description of this title reminded me of another read a few years ago, James Loewen’s Sundown Towns.  In fact, just prior to the publication of A Little More Freedom, Sundown Towns was published (which was mentioned in Blocker’s introduction).  Loewen hypothesizes that starting around 1890, European American populations in many small towns and cities throughout America (but particularly in the Midwest) actively blocked and eliminated diversity through intimidation and violence.  This was the era of the end of Reconstruction, Plessy vs. Ferguson, eugenics studies, and European American initiated race riots (included riots in Springfield in 1904 and 1906 and Akron in 1900).  Blocker acknowledges Loewens argument and does not disagree with it, but argues that there are more reasons why migration patterns ended up as they were.  In general, where intimidation was absent (or not as immediate), economics trumped other reasons.  This was especially the case industrial cities in northern Ohio after 1915. Continue reading

High Stakes

Curry, Timothy Jon, Kent Schwirian, and Rachel A. Woldoff.  High Stakes: Big Time Sports and Downtown Redevelopment.  Columbus, Ohio; The Ohio State University Press, 2004.

One of the recurrent themes spoken by developers and civic officials in Columbus as reported in High Stakes was that getting an NHL team would make the metropolis a Major league city.  I don’t know if there is any way on measuring a Major League city (other than having a major league team), but Columbus landed the Blue Jackets expansion team in 1997 (starting play in 2000-01), adding it to the expanding list of new “Major league” towns.  These cities (such as Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City in Basketball) join the old guard of major league cities which were well established as major metropolis at the turn of the 20th Century (though maybe not so much anymore).

High Stakes tells the story of how Columbus landed a hockey franchise by looking  at one of the most instantly forgotten historic events – the failed referendum.  In 1997, the residents of Franklin County rejected a 50 cent sales tax increase that would go towards paying for an arena (for hockey) and a soccer stadium for the already established Columbus Crew of the MLS.  (The Crew played at OSU stadium at the time).  From the jaws of defeat, within a week, a new franchise owner and arena deal was procured through private (with some public) funding.  Eventually a soccer only stadium was built through mostly private funding on the state fair grounds.  Everyone won, including those consumers who would have needlessly (it seems) paid higher sales taxes to build such stadiums.  A main point throughout High Stakes, is that a strong opposition is healthy for referendum issues.   Continue reading

The Urban Frontier

Wade, Richard C. The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities, 1790-1830. Urbana, Illinois; University of Illinois Press, 1996. [Originally published 1959].

Transmontane is a word you will learn from reading The Urban Frontier, as it is used on every other page. It means what is on the other side of the mountain. Wade’s history of five “Western” cities at first glance looks like a well researched history of the early West, in the time immediately after America pushed the native population from this part of the country. The West being ‘west of the Appalachian Mountains’ with early settlement along the Ohio River Valley.

But in the 1950s, when The Urban Frontier was published, the conclusions were quite groundbreaking. As outlined in the wonderful introduction by Zane Miller, prior to Wade’s work, most scholars viewed western urban development as pioneers settling the wilderness. When reaching a critical mass of people, the pioneers started developing cities and creating economies. It was a multi-step process. Wade’s major breakthrough was that the new settlers brought their old lives with them, which included living and working in cities. Western cities developed from the beginning of settlement. This has become integral in the study of urban history in America.

The Urban Frontier tells the history of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, and St. Louis. To keep with the prime directive of this blog, I am going to discuss the Cincinnati aspects, but if you have the time, I would recommend reading the whole text. Continue reading

John Nolen and Mariemont

Rogers, Millard F. John Nolen and Mariemont: Building a New Town in Ohio. Baltimore; The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

As the title suggests, John Nolen an Mariemont tells the story of the planning and development of one of Cincinnati’s premier suburbs by one of the grand masters of planning.  I recently completed Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America by Witold Rybczynski, where the author follows the creation of a housing development in suburban Philadelphia.  Though their back-stories differed greatly, I wanted to see how development differed in early 20th Century in comparison to today.  Though arguably similar to other exurban developments, New Daleville was planned as a ‘new urban’ community.  Mariemont is often cited as an inspiration for New Urbanists.  It made perfect sense to read John Nolen and Mariemont.

My first mistake was thinking that Mariemont, usually referred to as a Garden suburb, was a typical development.  Mariemont was meant to be a study in how America could house its people.  The money came from Mary Emery and the project was the brain child of Charles J. Livingood, a longtime associate of Thomas J. and Mary Emery.  John Nolen and Mariemont follows Livingood’s years of travel and research of Garden cities in America (think Forest Hills Gardens in Queens) to Europe (think or google Letchworth), his acquisition of the land along the Little Miami River, to his business relationship with John Nolen.  Be foreworne, most of the ‘action’ in this book is the correspondence between Nolen and Livingood (they only met a few times) from 1920 through the end of ‘planned’ construction in 1927.  The professional Nolen continously puts out fires, while the Livingood is portaiyed as idealistic and somewhat flighty.  Many letters are written about housing allotment, grading, street naming, and promoting this model community.  (Mariemont was designed with the idea of repeating it elsewhere.)  Planning buffs will not be disappointed.

It is a little thing, but I found the title slightly misleading.  Though the book is clearly about the planning and development of Mariemont, it is as if the marketing department decided afterwards to promote this as a John Nolen biography.  Nolen is one of several main characters in the development of Mariemont, as described by this book, but this is not his story alone.  Livingood is not even mentioned on the book flap.  As I said, it is a little thing, but I found it distracting.  I will not dwell on it anymore.

I have only been through Mariemont a few times and I find it a charming town.  What you learn in John Nolen and Mariemont is that much of Nolen’s original city plan was never completed (mainly because of financial constraints).  The town center, which I find to be one of Mariemonts strongest attributes was planned to be much more.  Think commercial and population density downtown.  Now that would made it even more New Urban.

I’ll give away the ending.  Mariemonts did not spread across the country.  As with Nolen’s professional career, the Depression pretty much ended Garden city developments in America.  But, maybe Mariemonts time has come again.  People are writing books.

Main Street Blues

Davies, Richard O. Main Street Blues: The Decline of Small-Town America. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1998.

There are many histories of small towns written. I will bet that there is at least one for every small town in America. Give or take a thousand. As small towns go, Camden, Ohio gets top treatment in Main Street Blues. Davies, a history professor with numerous publications to his name, looks at his childhood home with a goal of documenting the “typical” history of a midwestern small town.

Early in this history Davies keeps trying to bring parallels with Sauk Centre, Minnesota (Sinclair Lewis), Red Cloud, Nebraska (Willa Cather), and Clyde, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson), immortalized as fictional towns. This makes sense as a narrative as modern writer Sherwood Anderson was born in Camden (though he moved away very, very young) and made numerous references to Camden throughout his writing career. The literary bent story of the first hundred years of American small towns works as these were the glory days of the village, the epitomy of what it was to be American. But the good times ended, as noted in the darker, negative portrayals of all of these writers.

What I like about Main Street Blues is the academic focus on Camden, Ohio as a place. Buildings are painstakenly described, including a timeline of each business that occupied them and a history of major employers. The struggles to push through a bond to build a water system is detailed.

I found the imminent colapse of Camden following WWII somewhat surprising. Within five years after the war, the pattern was already setting for a future of suburbs, highways, and national media. Camden had the misfortune of being located 35 miles from Dayton and over 50 miles from Cincinatti with no Interstate. Oddly, there are more people living in Camden today than its glory years of the 1920s, yet there is nowhere to shop.

As a companion read for those who want to see the world outside of Ohio, Home on the Range: A Century on the High Plains by James Dickenson is a rewarding study of McDonald, Kansas. Dickenson’s work is more in depth than Main Street Blues in that he covers his family’s history. Though not their sole attempt, both titles do an admirable job covering the last 50 years, when people such as the authors had long since moved on from the small town.

Get Urban!: The Complete Guide to City Living

Ezell, Kyle. Get Urban: The Complete Guide to City Living. Dulles, VA: Capital Books, 2004.

I cannot quite make up my mind on Get Urban! Ezell is promoting city living and has written a book that tries to capture the essence of urbanity and what to look for when you do “get urban.”  I think there is definitely a market for this information.  Every city that cares for its survival is promoting young and older professionals to move to the city.  While most Americans did not grow up or live in an urban area  (which I will define as a central city), we are bombarded with the exciting, urban idea.  Good bet that the TV show you are watching takes place in a large city.  Towns and cities promote their urban aspects.  You see pictures of street-scapes with people walking as opposed to parking lots.  The super-commuter, going a hour and a half each way, is not what sells a community.

That said, the publisher within me says, “Who is really going to buy this book?”  People like me who live in a city and like reading about planning.  Yes.  Someone is thinking about moving to a city and goes out to find a book about moving to a city?  I don’t see it.  Someone who sees the book, is intrigued, decided to move to a city neighborhood described?  Possibly.

End the end, I like to think of it as a good real estate guide to moving to any generic, non-major city.  I can except that as a publisher (which I am not).  This book is about moving to the city, but it is not about moving to “the city.”  There is no New York or Chicago.  Ezell talks about the urban experience in any small to medium size city.  Ezell, who lives and works in Columbus, is very Ohio centric (walk in The Ohio Book Review).

What I really like about Get Urban! is Ezell’s attempt to codify and name  the different kinds of urban neighborhoods.  He comes up with four categories of what he calls urbs: post-industrial (warehouse district, turned lofts), garden (old housing stalk near downtown), eclectic (arts district), and blank canvas (that area no one wants to live now, but maybe in the future).  I think these categories are pretty good.  I have some trouble distinguishing between garden and eclectic (Oregon District and German Village are referred to as Garden style, while Ohio City is eclectic?), but I like how he tries to include those other areas that are not already destination neighborhoods.  Defining what these neighborhoods are is the bulk of Get Urban! and I have not found this idea laid out like this in any other work.  Especially, not a work that covers Ohio cities.

I do not mean come across as negative on Get Urban!, I am only jealous that I did not come up with the idea first.  Buy the book, take the test, and move to a city.  Dayton has at least four Garden Urbs that I would highly recommend.  And don’t get me started on Cleveland urbs.