William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun
Edward McClelland is a journalist based in Chicago who is originally from Lansing, Mich.
He had previously written a book that chronicled the rise of Barack Obama that was titled “Young Mr. Obama, Chicago and the Making of a Black President.”
In his most recent work, “’Nothin’ but Blue Skies,’ ‘The Heyday,’ ‘Hard Times,’ and ‘Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland,’” McClelland takes his readers on a tour of the upper midwest and great lakes area of the United States that was at one time the manufacturing center of the nation for automobiles, steel and other industrial products.
He reminds us that the factories and foundries located there provided employment for millions of Americans and allowed them to live a middle-class life in the post-war era.
But in recent decades those places have closed and many of the commodities formerly made there are now produced in foreign nations. The loss of those jobs have been devastating for that region and McClelland writes of men who have been out of work for years and have had to take jobs in the service sector that do not provide them with benefits such as health insurance.
He also tells of how some of those who lost their jobs have turned to drug dealing as a means of livelihood. We are told of how McClelland’s first published work of journalism was a story about a young man who had prospered as a crack dealer in Detroit but fell on hard times when he began to use the drug himself.
Thousands of people have fled that region and the author details how many of the Congressional seats that formerly provided representation to them in the U.S. House of Representatives are now representing citizens in states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona that have experienced population growth in recent decades.
The author visits the site in upstate New York where air conditioners were first manufactured and points out that air conditioning was responsible for transforming those states into places where people could live and work in comfortable temperatures throughout the year.
Those who have remained in the upper midwest and great lakes area have adjusted in a variety of ways.
McClelland writes of how the terms “rust bowl chic” and “ruin porn” have been embraced by some residents of an artistic bent who see beauty and art in abandoned buildings. A coffee table book of photos of some of the abandoned car plants in Detroit that is titled “Detroit Dissasembled” has sold thousands of copies and also inspired a traveling exhibit that was shown at museums.
Some people have begun urban farms in the abandoned areas of Detroit and Cleveland and other cities in the region. They sell their crops to their neighbors.
There are also citizens who have come to those cities and acquired homes and offices by paying the back taxes owed on them and opened small businesses and art studios.
One of the few resources that the area has in abundance is water and some communities there such as Buffalo, N.Y. and Cleveland, Ohio are now beginning to develop their waterways for recreational purposes as a way to attract tourists. McClelland writes of how leaders in the great lakes area reacted with indignation when New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson proposed several years ago that the waters of the great lakes should be shared with sunbelt states such as New Mexico and California. One of them is quoted by the author as saying that the sunbelt had taken many of the regions’ citizens and now wanted its water as well.
Chicago is where many young people from Michigan and neighboring states have relocated to and McClelland concludes that his new home is now a “world class city” that has attracted entrepreneurs and artists from around the world.”
William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.