A TALE OF THREE CITIES

I’ve been away for several weeks. My first of two trips took me with several friends on a tour of Midwest baseball parks. The stadiums are eye openers. So are their urban settings.

We flew to Detroit, but we stayed overnight in Dearborn. In spite of the comeback of the Big Three automakers and valiant efforts on the part of small-business developers (see “Chavez, Detroit and Me”), Detroit remains a foreboding city. Comerica Park where the Tigers play? A fantasy world! A huge plaza fronts Woodward Avenue, the Motor City’s main drag. Two huge lions grace the entry. Inside, the park gleams. It even contains a carousel.  Baseball games long ceased being just games. They’re spectacle-filled events.

Back to downtown Detroit. Yes, there’s Ford Field, home of the NFL Lions, and Joe Louis Arena (the NHL Red Wings) as well as the Detroit Opera, the Fox Theatre, Greektown and a pleasant walkway on the Detroit River. But the vast majority of Tiger fans come from the suburbs. A city that once housed over two million people is bankrupt and down to 700,000 residents plus 50,000 feral cats. That cats may someday outnumber people constitutes a real possibility.

After the game, we drove to Pittsburgh. Here we found another wonderful baseball cathedral, PNC Park. We also discovered a city that has reinvented itself. Pittsburgh faced the daunting challenge of a shrinking steel industry. But the city—now graced by clear blue skies—remains home to other major employers, including Heinz, PPG Industries and the PNC Financial Services Group. Westinghouse is headquartered in the suburbs. Then there’s the University of Pittsburgh and its massive medical center (over 50,000 employees) plus Carnegie-Mellon University. The city’s wealthy leaders, it seems, provided serious seed money for urban redevelopment, including repurposing old buildings as well as constructing new ones.

We took a bus tour. Obviously, the route didn’t include slums. It did include a healthy downtown, thriving nearby neighborhoods like the Strip, with its shops and restaurants, and the Southside with its new apartment complexes and bustling commercial streets. To a man, we were impressed. The question everyone has to ask: can Detroit find a model in Pittsburgh?

Some of us accidentally discovered a third city of note—this in addition to visiting Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis. I turned onto the wrong highway to Chicago and had to detour on Broadway in Gary, Indiana. In 1960, Gary, a steel town, had 178,000 residents. Today, only 80,000 live in this Rust Belt “icon.” Two-and-a-half miles on Broadway revealed no more than half-a-dozen vehicles ahead. I also recall seeing only one open business—a gas station—though there could have been others. Broadway could have past for a post-apocalyptic movie setting. It made Detroit’s Woodward Avenue look like Times Square.

Three cities. Three stories. The heart of America’s heartland still beats, but its pulse is uneven at best. We who live in prosperous coastal cities may find “flyover country” easy to disregard. But these communities also are part of America. When we ignore their plight, we shame ourselves.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

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4 Comments


  1. Tracy
    Aug 23, 2013

    Welcome back! I wonder if we can import some of those feral cats to deal with our seagull problem at AT&T??

    Just a thought


  2. Ron Laupheimer
    Aug 23, 2013

    Even though it was only a few weeks ago, your article brings back great memories. Your description of the three cities is so right on. The contrast was amazing. The community leaders of Pittsburgh should be congratulated. It truly was wonderful to see a vibrant city with many positive choices thriving, proving that our urban cities can be revived with the right leadership (and of course, money!).

    Thanks for joining us on Midwest baseball ballpark trip. It was loads of fund + one of the more enjoyable experiences of my lifetime, and I know the other trip members felt the same way.


  3. Ira
    Aug 23, 2013

    You don’t have to travel to the midwest to view the underbelly of America. Many CA central valley towns don’t look much better and only have better weather. Not every city can be technology capital of the US.


  4. Carolyn Perlstein
    Aug 31, 2013

    It’s politics. Politics get in the way of what’s best for the people.

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