Friday, May 01, 2009

The Roar of the Midwest

The first time I went to Detroit, Michigan, it was to attend the Allied Media Conference. That fateful June of 2007, I met some of the most amazing thinkers, writers, and activists I'd ever been witnessed.

One of the things that caught my attention (and envy) was the absolutely loyalty people had to Detroit.

At the time, I'd lived in several big cities in my life - Boston, New York, LA. I'd had my share of smaller cities like Aberdeen, Washington and Cincinnati, Ohio. I'd even lived in Managua, Nicaragua and Quezon City, Philippines as well. I'm rattling off my nomadic record to say that I'd never met activists who were born and bred in a city and determined to see it resurrect from the grave like I met the ones in Detroit.

Sure I'd met some crazy loyal Bostonians, New Yorkers who would die for the burrough of Brooklyn and those infamous born and die in the 'Nati folks...but there's a difference between loyalty or pride and urban blood love that translates into action.

I've spent much of my adult life lamenting the locus of my geographical soul. Like a pathetically, navel gazing fool, I'd spent so much time on what the sky scrapers said about me and my spirit, I never connected with the spirit of a city, cultivated a connection with its streets beyond what it FELT like to me. In short, I never gave anything or worked to make a city better than how I found it.

Now I live in Cleveland. I'd listened to movies that poked fun at Cleveland, that snickered at the darkening and hollowing problems that plague the city. When I moved here, I expected to cut out my own existence and stick to that. But now I'm opening myself to this place. I'm open to absorbing this lakeside city that is slowly emptying itself.

A city of problems, a city of frustrated citizens determined to see it grow, Cleveland is a place of strength in the face of delapidating buildings, abandoned warehouses, and rotting corners. But it is also the face of medical intervention, fresh and organic neighborhoods, unusually compassionate locals...the spirit here is raw, deep, and convincing.

So it bothers me when videos like this come out...essentially using old habit humor (read: negative) to list the city's wrongs and embarrassing points. While it's just another YouTube video, it gets under my skin that so many Ohioans are passing it freely calling it nothing but hilarious and a belly work-out. Ha Ha - Lebron James. Ha Ha - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ha Ha - "we're not Detroit."

For those who fight for dying cities - where the media is struggling, where the unemployment rate is worsening, where the ailing health of our youth is translating into more adult obesity and diabetes, where the gun violence lingers while the jobs flee - videos that commonly satirize poor, urban areas are angering.

It angers me. Greatly.

What makes a city great?

The culture, the diversity? The restaurants, the community amenities, the number of independent entrepreneurs it draws each year? The weather? Its living cost? Whether its a coastal location? Accessability to nature and the great outdoors? Its sports teams?

Maybe its its residents. The activists and educators and artists and bakers and leaders who are aflame with energy to see the city rebuild itself.

I don't know if Cleveland is the place where I will die and be buried, but I know that the spirit of this city is a alive. Even if its turbulent, it's alive. And those fighting for Cleveland know it is more than just a political talking point or a punchline for comics. It is our Home.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. I had not seen the videos - ugh.
    But Cleveland is where I was born and raised and lived until just a couple of years ago. I still visit. It's still home. I'm glad you are finding it a place to love.


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