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“There’s no place like home,” Dorothy says as she clicks the heels of her ruby red slippers. It’s the end of the movie, and she’s ready to return home, a place she always dreamed of leaving prior to her adventures in Oz. While Dorothy does experience a place of new opportunities and colorful people, she realizes that she also misses the advantages of being around the place she knows and the people who know her, not to mention wanting to get away from an evil witch, flying monkeys, and a fake person who presumably wielded a lot of power.
And just like Dorothy returning from the big city of Oz, many people in real life are making their way back home from places like New York and San Francisco’s Silicon Valley to areas very close in proximity and culture to Dorothy’s Kansas.
Richard Florida’s CityLab article “Returning to the Rust Belt” has a very Wizard of Oz feel as he explores sociologist Jill Harrison’s new study of Youngstown, Ohio and the people who are coming back after more than 20 years of devastating departures of residents.
As Florida explains, the Rust Belt has overwhelmingly been known for deindustrialization and abandoned towns as factory jobs which once supported thriving areas moved overseas leaving folks to relocate. But while some may be able to leave a place where families once thrived, the culture, the drive and the heart of that place stays with them. Youngstown, Ohio is one of these areas seeing young people coming back after a 2010 initiative by mayor Jay Williams.
These young people are wanting to bring back jobs and be a part of the revitalization of the place they once called home. They also see economic opportunity. “One thing about being back here is that you are a big fish in a small pond,” one returnee [from Harrison’s study] said. “In New York and Chicago there is no way. You are a cog in a great big machine.”
And while it’s true that their return has some sense of personal opportunity, it seems to have more to do with a sense of family that includes the community as a whole and the desire to help rebuild a community that once supported them. As Florida writes, “the deep history of industrialism, shared hard work, and shared struggle that are part of the social fabric of the community” binds this place to the hearts of the citizens, and seeing the growth in working together is more reward than the opportunities that may be available in a bigger city.
Of course, Florida writes, for this growth and revitalization to continue, these returnees need to help draw in new residents and businesses that bring more people to feel the same pull of community to call the Rust Belt home.
Perhaps they’ll build their own yellow brick road.