Sounds of the City: Youngstown

De-industrialization since the 1970s has radically transformed cities in North America and Europe turning the tides on decades of prosperity for scores of cities. Regions like the American Midwest, the Ruhgebiet in Germany, and Northeast England have transformed in the matter of a few decades. Some cities, like Chicago and Düsseldorf, have fared better than others. Others have seen bursts of renewal like Pittsburgh and then there are the cities like Detroit, which have experienced great loss are beginning to have glimmers of hope for the future.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown” epitomizes the rise and fall of the industrial city and the industrial era. De-industrialization represents a tidal cultural shift in these parts of the world and a change from the modern period to the post-modern period. This changing world affected more than just cities, but also the cultural systems that defined gender and sexual norms, the structure of family and community, and entire economic systems. Changes we’re struggling with in many ways still.

The world that build Youngstown, Ohio is gone and won’t return. The pain that causes is crushing for the people and communities that prospered. It’s a mournful piece that speaks to the loss of an era when cities all over these industrial regions exploded in the wealth of industrial output.

Springteen offers no solutions though. In one regard that’s how it should be perhaps. This song is like a hymn to what is no longer. But it also acts as a reminder that this world is in the past and there are many places and communities still struggling as a result of the changes caused by decades of de-industrialization and economic loses.

The question becomes how can cities and communities in de-industrialized regions move forward in a future that’s radically different from the world they prospered during?