The Akron Question: "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Posted by scapozzola on 03/25/2014

On NPR's 'Morning Edition' today, host David Greene talked to Akron, Ohio native David Giffels. Formerly a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, Giffels recently published a memoir -- The Hard Way On Purpose: Essays And Dispatches From The Rust Belt -- that explains why he has remained a resident of Akron, even as Ohio has weathered the swings of lost jobs, lost manufacturing, and the departure of many of his friends and neighbors.

Akron was once a thriving manufacturing center, home to Goodyear, Firestone, and Goodrich. Unfortunately, the globalization of trade left Akron stranded. Giffels chose to document the ensuing economic collapse, which includes the dismantling of a Firestone tire factory. Giffels says the work of razing the factory and its huge smokestack took almost two years:

The men had erected a platform that surrounded the spire so they could take it down methodically, course by course - handwork. They were removing the intricate puzzle of blocks a piece at a time and loading them into a bucket, which is lowered to the ground, emptied then hauled back up for another round. I don't know why they didn't just whack the thing with a wrecking ball. Plenty of other stuff around here has been erased that way, including Firestone's main factory many years before; which the guy from the wrecking company told me once was the toughest building he had ever encountered. It took two years to demolish. Someone had apparently predicted permanence.

When asked why he has chosen to remain in Akron, Giffels cites an understandable, lifelong loyalty to his home. And he also laments that "the rest of the country doesn't pay that much attention to the post-industrial Midwest."  Sadly, Ohio only regains the spotlight during presidential election, when it's "swing state" status suddenly matters to voters.

At heart, what Giffels regrets is that so many of his friends and neighbors simply had to leave Akron, to find work and a new life. He found himself wrestling with the question of whether to leave, or to fight for the community where he was raised:

I had a job offer in New York that I gave a lot of thought to, and talked to my wife a lot about it. And it was, you know: Do we leave and go where it's going to be a more obvious sense of opportunity. Or do we stay and commit to a place that kind of needs us more? And it kind of came down to: We belong here. And we belong here in a way that we're starting to kind of be proud of.

Read more about Giffels and his book of essays, The Hard Way On Purpose.

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