The following is a partial list of great cities that have been largely destroyed at one point or another in their history from natural and/or manmade disasters. The citizens of these cities have shown remarkable resolve and an indelible spirit by rebuilding their homes, business, and factories amid the ashes and ruins. One hopes both New Orleans and Sendai can join this list in the very near future.
- Atlanta – civil war
- Beirut – civil war
- Berlin – war
- Chicago – fire
- Dresden – war
- Halifax – peacetime military explosion
- Hiroshima – war
- Kobe – earthquake
- Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) – war and siege
- London – war
- Nagasaki – war
- Sarajevo – civil war
- San Francisco – earthquake
- Stalingrad (now Volgograd) – war and siege
Sadly, neglect is another type of destruction that has befallen a number of great cities, especially historic ones in the United States, and particularly in the past four decades. Unlike a sudden natural disaster or warfare’s timetable, neglect is much more difficult to overcome because it is inherently long-term and based on economic collapse and societal despair.
Examples like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis have been so documented in the media and by scholars, that it almost came to the point where perceptions were being perpetuated and reinforced by the steady-stream of bad news. Sort of a piling on scenario.
However, in the past few years, more cheerful accounts have arisen out from under the piles of studies to reawaken the populace of the greatness of their home towns. For me, this has been especially noticeable in Detroit, perhaps because I live here in Michigan.
Each of these great cities are approaching the tipping point where their potential promise of a positive future has taken hold in both the local and national psyche. Heaven knows it is long overdue, but for this native Midwesterner, the light does appear to be visible at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
John Mellencamp once wrote in a song entitled the The Great Midwest that it was,
“Five years ahead of their time
or 25 behind, I just don’t know.”
In this particular case, let’s hope the Midwest is establishing a precedent and format for thoughtful and appropriate revitalization of historic American cities in a manner that respects the wants, needs, and desires of those who live there. For they are the ones to be celebrated, as they have stood resolute against the pounding tsunami of neglect.
The reawakening of these great cities should be celebrated and a great thing to watch. I for one hope the American Planning Association (APA) will reward one of these marvelous cities with a future national conference. For indeed, there is a great deal to learn from those who have already tread the challenging pathways before us.