Optimism and Sustainability in Midwestern Cities

By Tim Clark, Bicycle Friendly Campus Intern

This recent Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled from Cincinnati to Indianapolis and, finally, to Chicago, visiting relatives and generally feasting. Whenever I had the chance, I would to leave the seclusion of my Aunt’s suburbia and experience the city proper, acting a tourist to these historic hubs of industry and ingenuity.

Having already given up on the struggling midwestern downtowns, my relatives were confused by my behavior and thrill in seeing that urban blight. But I didn’t see decay and dereliction; I saw opportunities and community-based adaptations and solutions to urban environment issues.
Chicago - Photo by Dave Cameron

Originally from Portland, Oregon, I have always had the civic pride (or hubris) that when it came to parks, art, sustainable development, bikes, and simple aesthetic charm, the Rose City was the bee’s knees. Midwestern cities were crumbling, culturally bleak reminders of the days of industry, surrounded by notably unsustainable suburbs. Pretty elitist, huh?

But I was wrong… the midwest has so much to offer.

I fell for Chicago as soon as I saw its skyline against Lake Michigan’s waters, for Cincinnati when I looked across it from Mt. Adams and wandered through Over the Rhine, and for Indy when I ran the gauntlet of museums and parks on the White River.

From the dust of fallen, forgotten industry, these cities are beginning anew with intense cultural heritage and drive for progress.

I sincerely enjoyed every moment I had exploring these urban renaissances, and as they rebuild and restructure, I see the greatest opportunity to bring forth a sustainable future. These urban juggernauts are undergoing redefinition and stand at the crossroads: to either simply and maintain and abate their deterioration or adopt a new paradigm in urban planning.

I ask you to not give up on cities, to remember them as the centers of regional innovation and fascination, and to assist these cities in finding their path. One day, you will move on from Bloomington, and your likely destination is a large city. You want a city that functions and thrives, a city bestowed with civic pride and engagement, a city beyond structures, a city without asthma-inducing pollution, a city with green spaces to inspire, relax, and sound the mind, a city prepared for climatic emergencies, and a city that forms community.

The major US cities are the precipice. It is our duty to capture this opportunity and construct our sustainable world.

Build bikes lanes!

Restore parks and natural lands!

Rebuild community centers!

Invest in green industry and sustainable design!

We must call out to our city officials, our community leaders, our neighbors, and ourselves that now is the time to save our cities and ensure our future.

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