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Sunday, May 28, 2023

A call to reimagine

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America is a Fourth World country!  A country once known to be the top manufacturer of goods, now finds itself with entire cities and regions riddled with abandonment. Built to order cities, like Gary, Indiana, still wreak of the stench that selfish corporate citizens like the U.S. Steel Mill leave in their wake, after they have decided they no longer have use of those cities. Cities like Detroit, Michigan; Camden, New Jersey; Flint, Michigan; East St. Louis, Illinois; and a host of other American “Rust Belt” cities, all have large inventories of abandoned manufacturing plants with massive buildings, and neighborhoods with residential structures and lots that have sat empty for decades. 

Manufacturing in America as we’ve known it, seduced us with the idea that being average was OK. We gave away some of our humanity by finding our spot on the assembly line, in what workforce developers classify was  “low-skill, high-wage” employment. Americans, were hoodwinked upon graduating high school to “get on at the factory” and find their place. Many Americans never imagined that corporations would ever close up shop for good and force the very people they asked to give up some of their humanity to then figure out how to live.  Manufacturing corporations, which defined the way of life for so many people and large parts of America’s land space now said, “You figure it out.” Interestingly enough, they began saying it 50 years ago. The nostalgia that still exist in the minds of many Americans for the return of manufacturing plants obstructs the creativity of their humanity to reimagine a new way of life. 

What if we abandon the ideas that once lured us away from our humanity, begin to reimagine, and thereby, redefine our way of life and use of the land in our cities? 

I have toured nine cities in six states in seven months. The devastation that I have witnessed in America’s Rust Belt cities has forced some citizens who are committed to their cities to exercise a level of creative genius that is inspiring. I have observed thriving urban farms, to residents acquiring the vacant lot nearest their property by working with their county land bank and cooperative marketplace commerce spaces with very little burden for citizens to run business.  Average citizens, who never thought of running for public office are winning government leadership positions in their municipalities. The citizens doing the work in these cities could have very easily found refuge in the nearest suburb, but they realized that the opportunities to take ownership of their communities increased when powerful manufacturing corporations that once defined their space and way of life up and disappeared.

As many of the cities and regions once defined by manufacturing continue to shrink, there has to be a reimagining of each institution in our communities. School corporations in cities that once needed multiple schools and sizeable structures now find it necessary to consolidate.

Are we willing to reimagine dynamic learning spaces smaller in size and number well before the point at which we find ourselves with no other choice? Likewise, in the process of reimagining our schools let’s do it in a way that does not place all the expectation to sacrifice on those groups already at the margins socially.

Opportunities abound to take ownership of our communities and cities. To reimagine them according to what we would like them to be. We can continue to concede our humanity to the next big cluster of corporations who would propose sweet possibilities and an alluring way of life, but one thing the last few decades should have taught us is that they will only do it for as long as it is exceedingly profitable for them to do so. Our humanity and living environment is rarely, if ever, factored into their decisions.


John W. Anderson Jr. is a doctoral student and a lecturer of sociology at Ball State University.

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