Towards a Rust Belt Ecology

Authors: Dustin L Herrmann*, Environmental Studies Program, University of Cincinnati, Kirsten Schwarz, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Kentucky University, Adam Berland, Department of Geography, Ball State University
Topics: Regional Geography, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: shrinking cities, post-industrial, sustainability, ecological management, Great Lakes
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Shrinking cities – those experiencing long-term population loss and declines in economic activity – are numerous and a defining feature of urbanization trends in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest and their bordering regions in Canada. Because loss of manufacturing was part driver of these changes, the region was pejoratively labeled the “Rust Belt”. Yet, these cities in many cases remain centers of economic and cultural vitality both despite and because of their varied legacies. The initially pejorative label Rust Belt similarly is being reappropriated as a proud identity. Beyond the major cities and former industrial centers, there are dynamisms and interrelated trends across urban, suburban, agricultural and wildland landscapes in the greater Rust Belt region. A significant need and potential in the region is environmental protection and restoration (e.g., of Great Lakes water quality) as well as the use of ecological infrastructure to replace aging infrastructures and become more adaptive to further social and environmental change. Here we present an initial vision of a social-environmental approach to synthetically study and shape the Rust Belt. We present early lessons on developing a Rust Belt Ecology from our work including: vegetation dynamics and housing vacancy in the shrinking city of Toledo, Ohio; soil structure after industry and urbanization; and the role of green infrastructure and ecological land management in navigating towards desirable social-ecological futures.

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