Natalia Naman Temesgen: Life imitating art

June 28, 2014 

Nathaniel Hawthorne famously said, "Families are always rising and falling in America." I wonder if the same can be said about cities.

A recent film, entitled "Brick Mansions," stars the late Paul Walker. "Brick Mansions" is an adaptation of a 2004 French movie called "District B13" in which a dystopian, Parisian slum has been so overrun by gangs, drugs and violence that police have turned it into an open-air prison surrounded by guarded walls topped with barbed wire.

In "Brick Mansions," the premise is the same, but the city is in America. I'll let Christy Lemire, writer at RogerEbert.com, say more: "Walker stars as Damien Collier, an undercover police detective in a dystopian, futuristic Detroit. (Otherwise known as: next week. I kid!)"

Call me a killjoy, but I'm not amused. I find it difficult to watch our country largely turn a blind eye to Detroit's plight while we delight ourselves in economically thriving cities like New York and San Francisco. I think of Detroit in its heyday and wonder how a place full of hope and prosperity not too long ago is now useful for little more than the setting of a dystopian film or the butt of a joke.

I mentioned these feelings to a couple of friends last week and they lifted up Gary, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio, two other "Rust Belt" cities. Twenty-five miles from downtown Chicago, Gary was founded in 1906 by the U.S. Steel Corporation. Its prosperity matched that of the domestic steel industry, and by the 1960s its decline had begun. Toledo was a much older city, but came into prosperity in the late 19th and early 20th century as a hub for railroad companies and various factories. It was rocked by the Great Depression and eventually slammed by the 1980s recession. Even now, attempts at redevelopment are slow to bear fruit.

I think about Columbus in light of all this. Call it PR or facts, but our city is on a steady up-and-up. After Reconstruction, Columbus grew at an unexpected pace due to industrialization.

But where the cities previously mentioned were wrecked when their bedrock industries faltered, Columbus has managed to bypass devastation with the decline of the textile industry because of its investments in other areas: Fort Benning, Columbus College (now Columbus State University) and financial industries (see: Aflac, TSYS, and Synovus), for example.

In my opinion, our community has continued to pour itself into efforts to keep the city vital, beautiful and prosperous. But there are certainly times in the past few decades that we have come close to stagnating in one regard or another, be it neglecting to clean up blighted areas of our community or falling prey to "privileged flight" in certain neighborhoods.

If we're ascending as a city, when will we peak? If we peak, when and why will we fall? What can we do as a community to ensure that our ups and downs reflect the natural lull of low tide rather than some catastrophic tidal wave?

-- Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent correspondent. Contact her at nataliadian1@gmail.com or on Twitter @cafeaulazy.

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