Saturday, November 01, 2014

With friends like these: Seeing Possibility in East Liverpool and the Ohio River Valley


I have never been to East Liverpool, and not driving, has prevented me from exploring the area more deeply, which is the main reason I don't post much about it. I have been around Wheeling a few times.

What press regional cities like Wheeling, Weirton, Steubenville and East Liverpool do get tends towards the negative.

Rust Wire hosted a typical post-(By a girl allegedly trying to help) playing on every stereotype- starting with a highly inaccurate headline, "East Liverpool and the Unforgiving Economy of Rural Appalachia".

"It’s a city where almost every second or third house seems to be abandoned, and not just abandoned. Some are burnt out. Some are falling down. The locals talk about the incessant and merciless drug traffic. They say dealers have come up to the city from the east coast – having found a robust market for heroin and other opiates. The drug trade wreaks constant havoc on the streets. In late September, five people were shot there in a single night."
Crime, abandonment, drugs, toxic chemicals, high cancer rates, sadly all too true. But.. this is hardly more Appalachia (Some stretches of the river better fit that description) than Pittsburgh itself is. East Liverpool is about a 35 minute drive from Pittsburgh International Airport. You can't really be near a major Airport and in "Appalachia" at the same time, these places lack the isolation that defines Appalachian poverty.

What makes their condition so tragic is how they are being left behind in an increasing thriving regional economy. A few clicks on street view, shows what are still very beautiful towns with the remains of deluxe main street amenities- mini Pittsburghs.

Two major issues seem to come to mind.

1) The huge impact the loss of rail links. River towns on often narrow flood plains are not well suited to auto-centric development.

2) The strong tendency to still see often destructive heavy industries as their only chance at jobs, even as automation has radically shrunk the need for workers.

This post will hopefully trigger a conversation about better leveraging the awesome assets, history and location of these communities and better linking them to greater Pittsburgh.

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