It seems like Akron’s become my adopted home town (with much weeping for Berlin and Edinburgh and Rome)…
- There are large numbers of folks who grew up here and still care deeply about this city, wanting to stay here to build.
- There are large numbers of folks who have moved here and who are determined to make this city something special.
- And, of course, there are large numbers of folks who have moved away from here and won’t move back.
Riding in a bus back from the Akron Portage and Paddle with a bunch of native Akronites is what prompted these thoughts. I was especially interested in the contrast between the well-meaning young folks who have moved here and want to build a creative hipster mecca and those who have lived here all their lives and see Akron as simply a place that they can’t imagine leaving, whether for family or for other reasons.
It’s odd in a sense to see the ways that Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt condemnation of boosterism has been turned. I’m a huge fan of The Devil Strip and its ethos, especially in the age of a culture that seems celebrity-mad, and yet there is the cynical, Gen-Xer in me who wants to adopt an attitude more like Scene did in the 1980s and 90s – obsessed with its focal points, as happy to hammer on local corrupt politicians and corporations as it was to celebrate (often reluctantly) the indie music scene and local artists like Harvey Pekar and Derf. The Devil Strip is here to promote Akron as a livable, working, sustainable city, one that doesn’t need the glitter and glamor of living on the coasts, and that approach requires a certain amount of what sometimes feels like blind optimism.
I’m not saying I’m anything but nostalgic for a vestige of my own young adulthood in wanting this. Cities and regions are immensely complex, and can’t be understood with either my wannabe cynicism or a bright-eyed boosterism that sees no flaws. Take, for instance, the concert we saw last Friday night – Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. There were thousands of folks there (not all from the region of course), ranging from the young guy with the combat boots and Irish flag who came straight from 1997 to the middle-aged woman with her pink union thug button mocking Republicans to the alt-righters who are a little bit confused by who these bands are (think Glenn Beck and Muse). And then, of course, there are those like the guys sitting beside me (not that we sat), who came for “Shipping Up to Boston” alone, watched with amusement as I recreated my Warped Tour dancing days from the 90s, and left as soon as the Merphys played that song.
By the way, that’s not “Shipping Up to Boston” in case you’re wondering. It’s instead a song that I think fits with the general gist of this essay, I’m hoping…
I’m also hoping that there’s a lot of room for both of these attitudes – the type of optimism that drives the community garden movement, that fuels a local music and art scene, that causes Akron to have listening sessions, that drives organizations like the Womb and the HIVE. and yet allows us to think clearly and look critically at what we do. After all, no one wants to become a babbit, do they?