Gary, Indiana: From “Music Man” to Urban “Hellhole”

(Photoo by David Tribby)


“There is just one place that can light my face — Gary, Indiana,” crooned con man Harold Hill in The Music Man — cheerfully oblivious to the knowledge that the idyllic Midwestern town that once abounded in opportunity would one day become a blighted urban “hellhole.”

“Once the center of the country’s booming steel industry and known as the City of the Century, Gary, Indiana now lies in ruins as a sad example of American industrial decline,” reports the Daily Mail of London. “Founded in 1906 by the US Steel Corporation, Gary’s heyday was in the post-war boom of the 1950s when almost 200,000 people lived and worked in the bustling city, 25 miles from Chicago. As the American manufacturing sector contracted, Gary’s population fell by over 50 percent and no one now uses the once-bustling train stations, churches and auditoriums that are now decaying as they are left to the elements.”

Decades ago, Gary epitomized the Midwestern ideal — an economically progressive town large enough to attract big-city amenities and culture, while preserving the mores and habits associated with small-town living. Tragically, the former boomtown has degenerated into one of the most dangerous cities in the region; its churches, cultural centers, and public buildings are vacant and decaying, and grass is growing in empty streets.

Author James Howard Kunstler, who chronicles what he calls the “Long Emergency” brought on by “converging crises” in energy, industry, and the economy, offers a grim eulogy on the basis of a recent visit to Gary:

Between the ghostly remnants of factories stood a score of small cities and ¬†neighborhoods where the immigrants settled five generations ago. A lot of it was foreclosed and shuttered. They were places of such stunning, relentless dreariness that you felt depressed just imagining how depressed the remaining denizens of these endless blocks of run-down shoebox houses must feel. Judging from the frequency of taquerias in the 1950s-vintage strip-malls, one inferred that the old Eastern European population had been lately supplanted by a new wave of Mexicans. They had inherited an infrastructure for daily life that was utterly devoid of conscious artistry when it was new, and now had the special patina of supernatural rot over it that only comes from materials not found in nature disintegrating in surprising and unexpected ways, sometimes even sublimely, like the sheen of an oil slick on water at a certain angle to the sun. There was a Chernobyl-like grandeur to it, as of the longed-for end of something enormous that hadn’t worked out well.

Writing at the Economic Collapse Blog, Michael Snyder lists Gary at the top of a dismal roster of “12 Hellholes” that typify what America has become in the wake of the housing bubble’s collapse.

“This is what happens when industry leaves and there are no jobs,” Snyder writes. “Gary has become a wasteland and there is essentially no hope for a turnaround.”

As the economic crisis deepens, more cities are succumbing across the country — Detroit, Flint, Stockton, West Philadelphia, Camden…. The roster will continue to grow.

Read more here.

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