Wednesday, April 16, 2008


It's my weekly shout out to a Rustbelt place--not New Jersey, I promise. And since I'm blogging from the Center of the Political Universe, home to elitists, Annie Oakley wannabees, and bitter blue-collar workers alike, I'll spare you a Pennsylvania post for a day or two. Thanks to Rustbelt readers Julia and Jonathan for playing the St. Louis Blues. Once the gateway to the Mississippi, the granary of the Midwest, a major shipping center, and a belt of heavy industry, St. Louis has lost most of its warehouses, its industrial base, and more than half of its population in the last fifty years. But thanks to some immensely talented historians, St. Louis is one of the best documented cities in America. Joseph Heathcott (a Rustbelt Intellectual if there was ever one) gave me an extraordinary tour of the Gateway City a few years ago, ending up on the grass-covered ruins of Pruitt-Igoe (see its depiction in Koyaanisqatsi above),the infamous public housing project whose demolition is the subject of his book in progress. Colin Gordon, best known for his innovative histories of business and the New Deal and national health care policy, has turned his formidable talent to the study of the long, tangled history of race, political economy, the real estate market, land use, and municipal division in his new book, Mapping Decline. Check out his whiz-bang GIS maps. And straight out of Urbana, Clarence Lang explodes the simple dichotomies between black power and civil rights in his study of local black activism in the 1950s. Rutgers urbanist Alison Isenberg (props to my first teaching assistant ever) is author of the justifiably acclaimed Downtown America. Worth the price of the book is her revealing discussion of the shockingly fast rise and fall of St. Louis's Gaslight District, one of the earliest "success stories" in downtown revitalization whose quirky outdoor cafes and trendy restaurants inspired downtown developers before they vanished away in the late 1960s. And let's not forget Maire Murphy, sometime co-author with Heathcott, has explored the long history of deindustrialization in the city and planning historian Eric Sandweiss who offers as rich an account of St. Louis. And my list has just begun.

Thanks to my Gateway City readers, I've linked to some great St. Louis sites: Vanishing St. Louis, Built St. Louis, and B.E.L.T. Also worth a visit is Ecology of Absence , maintained by one of St. Louis' most active preservationists, Michael Allen.