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Ohio State community challenges Kasich’s view of Ohio’s Rust Belt status

The Rust Belt concept was popularized in the 1980s to describe the highlighted areas with declining manufacturing industries, and subsequently, declining populations. Credit: Courtesy of Free Vector Maps

Ohio Gov. John Kasich proposed changing the state’s “Rust Belt” label to the “knowledge belt” during an Associated Press forum this month, but some members of the Ohio State community said there is still support for the use of the former term.

“A lot of young people these days are proud of that moniker,” said Kyle Ezell, associate professor of practice in City and Regional Planning. “Other people think that it’s a derogatory term of yesterday and a has-been status.”

The Rust Belt concept was popularized in the 1980s to describe areas, particularly those in the Midwest, with declining manufacturing industries, and subsequently, declining populations. Kasich used the idea of a “knowledge belt” to project a new image of the state, encompassing advances made by Ohio companies in areas such as robotics, biotechnology and data analytics.

While Kasich is not fond of the term, Ezell said most of his students use “Rust Belt” as a badge of honor. However, that’s not the only reason it has been difficult to eliminate.

“I don’t think that the moniker ‘Rust Belt’ is likely to disappear any time soon,” said Mattijs Van Maasakkers, assistant professor in City and Regional Planning. “It does describe the on-the-ground reality in many of Ohio’s cities and towns to this day.”

He said some view its meaning as still applicable today.

“It’s not something that you really choose to get rid of,” said Marianne Eppig, an alumna in city and regional planning and public affairs. “It is part of our past, but we have the opportunity to build the future that we want.”

Regardless of the label used, there is widespread common interest in improving Ohio’s economy.

News reports documented former Democrats from previously strong manufacturing industries across the country voting for President Donald Trump this election season, hoping that he would increase those kind of jobs. Eppig said she thinks many of the most impactful actions in the region, though, will likely be on the local level.

Ezell said his students are determined to make the Rust Belt’s future more competitive and new, believing that Ohio cities deserve to be preserved and revived.

“There are a lot of students who are in the city and regional planning program that come from areas that need a lot of help,” Ezell said. “They are trying to figure out how to turn to their hometowns or home cities and help them.”

Clarification, 3/2: The original version of this story quoted Mattijs Van Maasakkers as saying the term ‘Rust Belt’ described the “underground reality” for many in Ohio. In fact, he said it described the “on-the-ground” reality.

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