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Saving Cities Solves the Rust Belt Brain Drain

Cleveland’s uphill battle for its reputation has been going on for years—at least since 1969, the year its Cuyahoga River infamously caught fire (sorry, Cleveland—had to). The city has made its water, well, water again, but stopping the runoff of its best and brightest citizens has proved a tougher challenge, and the economic crisis hasn’t helped. “We're hurting. No doubt,” says Jack Storey, a native Clevelander and co-founder of the Saving Cities initiative, a new project aiming to combat brain drain in aging Rust Belt cities.

Storey founded Saving Cities last year with several other twentysomething Rust Belters, folks from places like Detroit and Akron who believed there was a fresh case to be made to young professionals: That same poor economy has also made these downtowns ideal places to live. “We offer so many things that larger cities can't,” says Storey. “Affordable daily living, manageable commuting and public transit, the opportunity to own something substantial without drowning in debt.”

That last one’s a biggie. And one of the group’s main current initiatives—they brainstorm daily around a “Rust Belt Hierarchy of Needs”—centers on reclaiming vacant properties in “developing” neighborhoods and marketing them to the creative class. “These are homes that would otherwise be torn down [or] left to rot,” Storey says.

But the project’s most significant new move may be symbolic: the way they’re pooling not just resources, but identities, to get behind the “postindustrial” theme. “[We’re] not trying to create a competition between cities,” Storey notes. Emphasizing the common experience of these cities is a clever way of pointing out its value.

Logo by Michael McFarland at Design Monkey, Ltd.; photo by Angela Jarden

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