In the 1980’s it was Homestead that staked out the emotional heart of the Rust Belt miasma. Outside of Detroit in recent years Braddock has cornered the PR market for as Jim R. would put it: “Rust Belt Porn”. Yet then and now the city of Duquesne has declined as much and suffered as much, just with much less notice.
So now the news comes with the outcome both inconceivable and inevitable that the state is likely to shut down the Duquesne school system completely. The city’s school district has already abdicated secondary education with its high school students shipped to nearby West Mifflin or East Allegheny. This is all more epilogue than news sadly. Still feels like a story from the worse off parts of the third world. In security studies if you anonymized the name it would in part be indisinguishable from case studies in failed states and feral cities.
But that news story highlights again how little we understand our own problems.. how myth overtakes reality. The section and quotes that caught my attention was the almost de rigueur logic on the impact of the steel industry. It goes by formula exactly like this:
Chepanoske points not to any person or government entity but to the loss of jobs and subsequent sharp population decline.
Census figures show Duquesne was home to 11,410 people in the 1970s when steel mills provided good-paying jobs. Today 5,565 people live there.
“When the mills were running full blast, things were really good,” Chepanoske said. “It started to deteriorate in the 1980s when people moved away.”
In other words.. it’s nobody’s fault. Steel left. Blame ’steel’. Whatever that means. That seminal year 1970 is the only horizon that matters it seems.
Did the decline of manufacturing cause Duquesne’s decline? Did it accelerate the population decline even? When was the last time things were really ‘good’ in Duquesne? Here is the city’s population over the century. Can you identify any meaningful break in trend in the 1980s? But if the problems are caused by the loss of steel jobs, and the decline in steel jobs are somehow beyond our control, then ergo.. this just isn’t anyone’s fault.
Is Duquesne’s plight unconnected to manufacturing? Of course not. But the heyday of Duquesne came long ago at this point. The workers in the mills along the rivers started abandoning those towns long before there was any conception steel was ever going away. The first hand memories people have of a growing or even stable Duquesne can only be among those receiving Social Security. If we misunderstand our problems we can’t ever fix them and attributing the plight of many of the barely existing.
I have not even gotten into the joke that Duquesne with barely 5K population in 2010 is still a ‘City’ according to the laws of Pennsylvania. Upper Darby Township in Delaware County, PA clocked in at over 82K residents in 2010. Makes sense somehow. Goes back to what the real problems are in Pennsylvania. Saddest part of the Duquesne story is that they just didn’t have any large bond payments to default upon. If only they had been so irresponsinle as to build a garbage incinerator, the Commonwealth apparachiki might have paid some real heed.
If you want to obsess on on the stylized Duquesne history, don’t recereate the wheel. Just jump over to DuquesneHunky. It would do the neighboring Tube City Almanac proud. I actually can’t believe it’s author is not Jason’s alter ego.