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Old 09-06-2014, 05:48 PM
 
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When we talk about why cities decline, we often give various reasons for why it happened-white flight/racism, desire for more space, desire for an automobile-friendly environment, and many more. But there is a factor that we tend to bypass when talking about urban decline that could be the most important of all: industrial pollution. Here's my argument and proof for why and how industry was what drove people from cities.

First, let's look at the cities most affected by population decline. When we think "population decline," the first thing that comes to mind are the classic Rust Belt cities. Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and sometimes the eastern powerhouses of Baltimore and Philadelphia are all the former industrial meccas that come to mind. These cities are also all identified with a similar history-born as transportation centers on rivers and lakes, and then catapulting to national prominence after being chosen as centers for industry due to their central locations. All were hosts to big industries-steel mills, oil refineries, auto factories, stockyards/meatpacking plants, and other forms of heavy industry; sometimes so much so that they became identified with those industries (EG Detroit and autos, Pittsburgh and steel). Their growth was largely driven by massive amounts of poor immigrants looking for work; however, once these immigrants' descendants had the money, they left. Why is that?

Let's rewind. Think about what drove these cities' economies, and how they formed-heavy industry. Hevay industry tends to spill out a lot of pollution, right? Now take a look at some of their oldest and most declined neighborhoods. For example, here's a home in Detroit, right by the old Packard Plant. Now, keep in mind that pollution regulation didn't start until well after these factories were built (usually between the 1890s-1930s); the first pollution regulation act was enacted in 1955, long after most of these factories were built. This was in response to US citizens beginning to discover and recognize the damage industrial pollution was doing not only to their environment, but to their own selves. And, looking at the example above, these factories were practically in their front yard. Ironically, the 1950s was also the dawn of suburbanization, when people first began to move out of city cores to surrounding suburbs. That's an interesting correlation, isn't it? And it's no coincidence.

Think about it-look at that house, and ask yourself-would you want to live there at Detroit's height, with that factory less than a block away spewing out pollution into the air you breathe? I wouldn't! People were just now realizing the damage this did to them, and they wanted to get away. They weren't willing to live by pollution-spewing factories anymore. And why? Because they didn't have to! This is where the car comes in. The car became available to the middle class by the 1950s, making what were once impossibly long commutes on foot a short trip away by road. So you no longer had to live on the factory's doorstep to keep your job. Who wouldn't take advantage of that? And that's exactly what people did. The people left, but the industrial jobs left the cities. In fact, industrial decline didn't start until the 1980s*, well into the suburbanization process. For many of those years, people still worked in the city and kept their comfortable union factory job, going to and from work by car. And as people moved away from the dirty, polluted cities, it was only natural that the service jobs and white-collar jobs followed them, especially as the US became more white collar following the loss of manufacturing jobs that started in the 1980s (see above). This why things are the way they are now-this is why suburbs have so much influence over cities like they do today (especially in the former Rust Belt cities-again, not a coincidence); the industries chased the people to them, and the non-industrial jobs followed those people there.

But how do we know that it was industry that drove people out? How do we know that this correlation isn't just coincidence, and other trends were the real cause? Let's take a look at some non-RB cities or parts of cities like San Francisco, Boston, or Chicago's North side. The north side of Chicago, for example, was less manufacturing-based than its counterpart half. When looking at aerial views, one will notice that the North Branch of the Chicago river is dotted by parks and green spaces. By contrast, the Southern Fork is dotted by factories (both functional and abandoned) that took advantage of the location for shipping to and from the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. Railroads also entered largely through the south side, as since Chicago was a major east-wets rail center and had a lake directly to its east, the railroads coming westward to link up with western lines had to bend around Lake Michigan and enter Chicago from the South. These lines not only served as major industrial corridors, but also sliced and diced up neighborhoods, separating them and providing noise to nearby homes, thus making those homes less than desirable. Chicago's north side had much less of these industrial railroad corridors. Overall, the north side was far less blue-collar and industrial-based than the south side. Now onto Boston and San Francisco-both were big immigrant port cities, but they lacked the manufacturing base that the big Rust Belt cities had. Their manufacturing jobs were largely tied to their port facilities, and weren't really high-polluting industries. Port cities thus didn't see as much of a decline. And what of the port cities that did, like Baltimore or Philadelphia? These particular big port cities were actually home to their own heavy industries. For example, the Baltimore area was once home to the world's largest steel mill complex . Philly also was (and still is) home to heavy industries such as oil refineries. Funny how these two cities are the two major cities out of the BosWash corridor that have seen major ongoing population decline and decay.

So, we now understand that it was heavy pollution from heavy industry that drove away people from cities. Racism, desire for space, want for automobile convenience/automobile culture, etc. were all factors in the decline of city centers, but none played so large a part as pollution. In fact, pollution was a largely prevalent theme in most of these factors. For example, racism largely played out in White flight and redlining; however, these were attempts to leave blacks within the polluted cities, to leave them with the "lesser" places to live, rather than a slight at the cities themselves. And the automobile culture was birthed by pollution, as argued earlier-people used automobiles so they didn't have to compromise between nice homes and nice jobs. Thus, as a result of their endemic use they became cemented in the American mindset.

Long story short: Pollution made people want to leave. Automobiles simply gave them the ability.

What does this mean for cities now? That's coming in the next post, because my brain is fried from typing this one.


*(I know this link has political bias, but it does provide the cold hard facts I need, so just pay attention to the numbers and ignore the argument.)
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:38 PM
 
Location: Seattle, WA
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Good thing the manufacturing industry in the US is a shadow of it's former self and we have everything made overseas by essentially slave labor. Now we don't have to worry about industrial pollution! Now we've become a wonderful place with a service economy!

Repeat after me: "would you like fries with that?"
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:38 PM
nei nei won $500 in our forum's Most Engaging Poster Contest - Thirteenth Edition (Jan-Feb 2015). 

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Location: Long Island / NYC
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As for industrial decline starting in the 1980s, it depends on where. There was already a bit of industrial decline by the 30s and 40s in New England though it was faster in decades later. Probably 1970s for New York City.

Your post seems somewhat reasonable, though it needs a check. I suspect plenty of neighborhoods declined that were not that close to factories.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:56 PM
 
Location: Lakewood OH
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If pollution made people leave their cities why are they still flocking to an automobile polluted cities like LA or New York? And why, if heavy industry has declined so much in the previous industrial cities, don't people return to them?

Actually, regarding the latter, I think they are. I moved to a rust belt city from the PNW this summer. Every time I tell someone I did that they have a story to tell me about someone else they know who has relocated here from other parts of the country including the West Coast. This is just anecdotal evidence that people move anywhere and everywhere it's true but it still shows that there is not just only one stream of migration. The stream is heavier in some directions but it is still not totally exclusive.

Do you have any statistics to support your statements or are they more of a theoretical nature? It's pretty simplistic to say there is just one reason for the decline of any city or neighborhood. There is more to it than just pollution.
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Old 09-06-2014, 10:06 PM
 
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Almost, however industrial decline is a complex subject. Some decline happened soon after WWII for instance once the highway system was built the need for central stockyards for slaughtering and processing animals in the city started to go with it and so that industry went into decline in the 1950ies. It was cheaper to move the plant closer to the farm likewise the dairy industry had less need for dairies in the city. The decline hit Chicago and Detroit.

In 60ies and 70ies office work starts to move into suburban office campuses which reduces the need for white collar jobs in the cities. Retail likewise with malls.

The steel industry starts decline in the late 70ies due to increased foreign completion and decreasing need for steel made from scratch(steel is much cheaper and much less labor intensive when recycled). Modern life uses much more plastic and aluminum than steel.

The passenger rail industry had been in decline since the 1920ies with the invention of the car and the decline grew even worse with the advent of the highways. Likewise the freight rails which now saw much greater completion from trucking.

The auto industry hit major declines in the 80ies due to increased foreign completion from Japan and Germany.

Also not all burbs are residential there were burbs that were more industrial in nature. The car and highway allow greater flexibility about where an factory can be built.

Last edited by chirack; 09-06-2014 at 10:21 PM..
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Old 09-06-2014, 10:09 PM
 
Location: Foot of the Rockies
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Pittsburgh and its entire metro declined due to the crash of the steel industry. The entire metro population declined since 1970, only in the last few years (40 years later) has it started to rebound slightly. Interestingly, there were few mills right in the city.
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Old 09-06-2014, 11:04 PM
 
Location: Youngstown, Oh.
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Good post, OP!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Minervah View Post
If pollution made people leave their cities why are they still flocking to an automobile polluted cities like LA or New York? And why, if heavy industry has declined so much in the previous industrial cities, don't people return to them?

Actually, regarding the latter, I think they are. I moved to a rust belt city from the PNW this summer. Every time I tell someone I did that they have a story to tell me about someone else they know who has relocated here from other parts of the country including the West Coast. This is just anecdotal evidence that people move anywhere and everywhere it's true but it still shows that there is not just only one stream of migration. The stream is heavier in some directions but it is still not totally exclusive.

Do you have any statistics to support your statements or are they more of a theoretical nature? It's pretty simplistic to say there is just one reason for the decline of any city or neighborhood. There is more to it than just pollution.
IMO, the migration away from the polluted cities to the suburbs was like the first domino falling. People left, property values declined, crime started to increase, schools started to decline, which caused more people to leave, which caused property values to decline more, crime to increase more, schools to decline more, etc. But then their industries also left, which really accelerated the decline.

Also, I don't think modern day pollution, like that found in LA or NYC, can compare to the level of pollution found in rust belt cities during their heyday. Here is a photo of a Pittsburgh suburb where the streetlights had to be turned on at noon, due to the pollution: ExplorePAHistory.com - Image

Although I'm way too young to have experienced the pollution directly, whenever I open a wall, or open a space that has been closed off for a very long time in my house, I find a thick (sometimes as much as 1/4 inch) layer of black soot from the mills. (I know this was from the mills, because my other house, on the west side of the city, didn't have this issue)
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Old 09-07-2014, 02:04 AM
 
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Is it possible the soot came from burning coal?
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Old 09-07-2014, 06:00 AM
nei nei won $500 in our forum's Most Engaging Poster Contest - Thirteenth Edition (Jan-Feb 2015). 

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Location: Long Island / NYC
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JR_C View Post

Also, I don't think modern day pollution, like that found in LA or NYC, can compare to the level of pollution found in rust belt cities during their heyday. Here is a photo of a Pittsburgh suburb where the streetlights had to be turned on at noon, due to the pollution: ExplorePAHistory.com - Image
or, speaking of NYC:

[UPDATED] Last Night's Smog Problem On Mad Men Was A Real Problem In 1966: Gothamist

The phrase "London fog" wasn't actually natural fog; the city isn't that foggy. It was smog mostly from coal heating.
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Old 09-07-2014, 07:30 AM
 
Location: Foot of the Rockies
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creeksitter View Post
Is it possible the soot came from burning coal?
That was a large percentage of it, I think.
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