I’ve mentioned to people that anyone who’s over 50 and lived in Akron most of their life carries a sort of burden. Many of us remember when downtown was a crowded and vibrant place, the rubber factories were going full tilt, and our neighborhoods were stable, attractive and strong. Nostalgia is a mixed bag, though. Memories of what used to be can make it hard to re-imagine something new.
If you lived through the 70’s and 80’s – it would have been easy to think that Akron’s day had come and gone.
We were no longer “The Rubber Capital of the World” – a burgeoning, prosperous industrial town that had actually been one of the fastest-growing cities in the world between 1914 and 1920. By the time Chrissie Hynde sang that her “city was gone,” she pretty much hit the nail on the head—both literally and figuratively.
As I said, having witnessed what this city was actually makes it a little harder to imagine now what it could be. My generation knows the city will never return as the kind of boom town it once was; we still tend to judge anything new that comes along by the standards and experiences of the past.
Yet there is a feeling that things are on the upswing.
A new generation doesn’t see what used to be.
They don’t look at empty storefronts and reminisce about long-gone stores and restaurants. They just see an empty space that’s ready to be transformed.
They don’t see vacant neighborhood blocks that have been cleared of old houses; they see an open urban prairie that’s waiting to be resettled.
They don’t care about what was lost. All they care about are the new opportunities to be found.
Whether it’s a place like Akron, or Cleveland, or even Detroit – the former Rust Belt (I’ll say it first) – is looking more and more like the Wild, Wild Midwest.
Maybe a new group of young settlers will ditch their million-dollar mortgages, two-hour commutes and crowded metropolises...to find a new home and new opportunities in our open spaces.
You still hear people say: Yeah--but there's no nightlife there. Or VC network. Or fashion scene. Or tech hub. Maybe so. All the better, so you can come here with your own vision and help create it.
Nobody says it will be easy; many of us have been here for 50 years or more. We already know it’s not.
That’s’ why I’m excited about the new generation of leaders that are ready to take over this town. I believe they have the energy, the smarts and the creativity to make things happen, and I’m perfectly happy to offer my help as they create something new again here.
Of course, there’s little chance our town will ever see anything like the type of economic growth we experienced at the beginning of the 20th century. And who would want that again? Parts of town are still suffering from that legacy…old neighborhoods full of hastily-built worker housing and poorly-designed sewer systems for which we are just now starting to pay the price.
But I think there is an exciting future ahead.
Northeast Ohio is still one of the Best Locations in the Nation in terms of access to major population centers, convenient transportation, and now—the most affordable cost of living.
The city and the region offers an increasingly diverse and welcoming population, vibrant Arts communities, great business and technology resources, and a growing cadre of young leaders who are eager to seize the opportunities that are out there.
If you like the outdoors, we have four complete seasons of weather; for the most part, we can happily avoid the most serious calamities like earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes and mudslides. A grand National Park is just a few minutes away, and a Great Lake just a few minutes more.
Certainly there’s more work to do. Improving our schools is high on the priority list, but at least we've already rebuilt most of them. Preserving our best neighborhoods, re-thinking some old ones, and integrating transportation more thoughtfully into our environment are just some of the issues we need to address.
Whether it’s LeBron taking the lead in boosting educational opportunities for inner-city children, or Young Torchbearers coming up with original ideas to improve the Akron Experience, one thing’s for sure: The ideas, the spirit, the creativity...and most of all—the energy—are more in evidence now than they have been in a long, long time.
Now the song that’s rolling inside my head is an even older classic, from Akron’s own Ruby and The Romantics: Our Day Will Come.
Image Credits: David B Design davidbdesign.com