The lessons of a Rust Belt upbringing

I read this post, “Born into Ruin: How the Young are Changing Cleveland” by Richey Piiparinen yesterday and it floored me.

Read this:

It’s true. I am not happy all the time living in Cleveland. But I don’t want to be happy all the time. That’s unnatural. Said Nietzsche:

“Sometimes, struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If we were to go through our life without any obstacles, we would be crippled. We would not be as strong as what we could have been.”

Cleveland is a struggle. But that is how I know it. That is how many Clevelanders in their 20’s to 40’s know it. We didn’t know the city of Mr. Jingeling and Bob Hope—the city of a near million—the “Best Location in Nation”. No, we knew Cleveland on its knees. We knew Cleveland praying. But being born into post-industry is a good first lesson. Life is an obstacle. Cleveland prepares you.

You need only replace the word “Cleveland” with the term “Iron Range” and you have a concise summary of my life philosophy as well. Most “homers” from up here to Albany, N.Y., probably feel similarly.

I’d strongly suggest reading the full piece for context, because this comes with a warning.

But this groundedness, this Rust Belt-ness, it’s not a settling or a lack of aspiration, but rather—for Clevelanders populating the city that never knew its heights— a chance to look around and see nothing but work to do, and an opportunity to do it. There are a lot of fresh eyes around. The city psychology is changing. And I think this may save Cleveland, because people are no longer waiting for Cleveland to save us.

That sounds a lot like what’s happening in Duluth, but for some reason the opposite of what’s happening here on the Iron Range, where we still wait for mining companies or political winds to favor us. Look around. There is so much work to do. Isn’t that wonderful? A life of great purpose can be lived under such conditions.

(h/t to reader “T” for posting the link to this piece in a comment)


  1. Nice work Aaron. This is awesome. There’s a reason you got over 1 million views. Although, I’m probably a few hundred thousand of those. Ha! Seriously though, nice work. This is great.

    I think a good example of Range success is Biwabik and the surrounding area there. It is simple to see the difference. You can drive through Gilbert, with its stroad (see “Strong Towns” for definition of stroad) and then you enter Biwabik with its bustling city center. They even have a “shared space” intersection where stoplights once stood, not to mention Honk the Moose.

    There are tangible differences between how a person feels while in Biwabik and surrounding area versus other Range locations. I think that situation serves as a good example of the “Let’s do it ourselves” approach…

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