#197 – Rusted Dreams

The American Rust Belt is a maligned creature, deemed at once a trap of rancid poverty and a major supplier of the kind of reactionary stupidity that got Donald Trump elected. Certainly, times for the Rust Belt have been tough; a combination of limited investment in education, an over-reliance on untenable industrial patterns, and the destruction of major urban centers by way of suburbanization and car dependence will do that to anyone. It certainly did a number on Canada’s Rust Belt, also known as “the part of Ontario with a defunct manufacturing center”. It’s a big, angry, reactionary blob of underinvestment and cyclical poverty.

Some of the remains of the Rust Belt here attempted to go the Richard Florida route (fun fact: Florida recanted this nonsense, which bodes poorly for places that fell for it in the first place). Others have fallen victim to idiotic housing speculation. London has decided to continue sucking, a perhaps-unwise decision but fuck it. Some parts of the Rust Belt here are even recovering. But for most the area represents a Sophie’s Choice – overinvestment rendering your community a powder-keg that actively pushes natives away, or miring further in muck. It’s an unenviable position to be in.

Almost every city in the Canadian Rust Belt has similar problems. Public transit services are weak at best, and the feeling of despair and poverty crosses generations in every Rust Belt community. Which is why people don’t stick around and why trust in government and private industry is at an all-time low. The sense that “the good times” (read: working in a factory and living in a suburban box) will never come back is palpable. Canada’s Rust Belt, once the middling supplier of components par excellence has been tossed aside just like any other flash-in-the-pan Canadian economic generator that fell apart because of negligence and unaccounted-for global events.

Southern Ontario’s problems are pretty apparent when you look at the place. Canada’s piss-poor rail system is focused on Southern Ontario, and it’s entirely inadequate. The train station for the cities of Hamilton and Burlington (which shouldn’t be sharing a train station to begin with) are in neither city, instead being cordoned off next to a freeway and in the middle of nowhere. Transit is expensive and poorly organized, forcing people into the debt trap that is personal vehicle ownership. Even with strong economic tailwinds the Canadian Rust Belt can’t seem to make a go of it. And Dear Leader…well, Dear Leader can’t even fart an answer as to what Ottawa will do to help the disappointed, fretful peoples of the Rust Belt.

I can hear the counterpointing now. “But”, says the caker apologist, “what about places like Kitchener-Waterloo? Or Hamilton? Maybe tiny-town Rust Belt Ontario is doomed, but we’re making a fix of the big cities!” The problem with that argument is cost-related. Take Hamilton as an example. Hamilton has historically had a big poverty problem. It also used to be considered too distant to commute into Toronto to, at least until Toronto decided to shit its own housing bed and to allow the city to devolve into My Little Dubai. The upshot of both of these realities is that Hamilton was for a time a fairly affordable place to be mired in. But with the spectre of commuters (who don’t actually have a solid way of commuting save for rare train trips and buses that get stuck in traffic) coming to colonize the city, housing costs (and continued losses in full-time employment) quickly outpace the ability of native Hamiltonians to pay, meaning that those crushed out of their own homes by hipsters and trust fund babies continue to be shafted by governance that would rather pretend that they don’t exist. And you wonder why folks like these don’t trust government and would rather knock the whole thing down.

Hamilton’s looming conversion to hipsterdom, K-W’s insane fixation on the repudiated ideas of Richard Florida, London’s suicidal march into a suburban grave, Windsor’s confused stagnation, and the continued refusal to even acknowledge the gravity of the problems and poverty experienced in small-town Rust Belt Ontario speak to the problems of the Rust Belt. Despite Pravda’s best attempts to present these areas as “new frontiers” (and as someone who grew up in the Rust Belt, here’s a hearty fuck you to anyone who thinks that way), the reality is that these “frontiers” are poorly-governed, badly-planned, and breathe ever-new life into the reactionary hatred of the roiling masses being pressed out by foreign funds. You can invest in the newcomers all you’d like, but the people who were mired in these places when they were at their absolute worst are still mired, and they increasingly are running out of patience.

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