If you’ve traveled outside of campus, you’ve probably seen rundown buildings, empty spaces, and abandoned lots. If you haven’t seen them, let me paint you a picture:
To the west there are open green lands full of grass. Some of them are blocked off by metal fences, vacant next to busy highways and outside a growing college campus. There are small brick buildings with broken and boarded up windows, leaky roofs and crumbling walls. Abandoned housing and apartments next to the remnants of a city that was once as vibrant as the nearby campus. The abandoned storefronts are covered in graffiti and have been ignored for years.
To the north, there are houses that are collapsing. They have shuttered windows, overgrown ivy, cracked driveways and sidewalks, and crumbling structures. Homes that once comfortably housed a family of four now hold memories of years gone by and people quickly forgotten.
When you pass these buildings and spaces in Cleveland, it is clear that there was once industry. However, when the steel crashed in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the money was gone and people followed suit soon after.
Growing up in western Pennsylvania, I know there are clear differences between places that were abandoned with the steel collapse and those that never recovered. These towns have some of the worst drug and alcohol problems, with scarce grocery stores. Children are stuck with parents unable to pay for food or wasting it on cigarettes and beer. Families live on food stamps, banks and kitchens, unable to break the cycle. Moreover, the schools are just as poor as the people and cannot provide the same public services that nearby schools have in spades.
With all these empty buildings and green spaces cut in half by road infrastructure – mind you, facilitated by people who don’t care about parks or walking areas – it’s hard to imagine a world in which these buildings and areas can be used. . But the next time you drive or pass a strip of abandoned town, or a place near your home that you often ignore, imagine a school. One like the one you’re going to, with new dorms, technology, and teachers that can help students stuck in a cycle of drugs, poverty, and teenage pregnancies.
Imagine this: shops and cities brought back to life with small businesses, and big businesses bringing industry back to places that have been so long lifeless. Imagine groups dedicated to helping those less fortunate and reviving discouraged citizens. Imagine teams working with local governments to help foster children enroll in safe schools, solving problems with the foster care system and giving those lost children a chance. Imagine warm, safe and stable places, places that could be the home of these children.
Across the country and around the world, there are a lot of people who don’t have the same opportunities as us – they can’t imagine a world outside of the one they’re stuck in. By working collectively to help the underprivileged – giving them a place to explore who they are, where they come from, and making the world a better place – we can work towards a better world. We can work to reduce the number of people living on government assistance and barely getting by, reduce levels of obesity and mental health disorders, heal the environment and create new jobs.
We might just be students, and maybe that’s idealistic, but these abandoned places don’t do anything for the local community. However, other cities would love to see new forms of revenue, new places to live, and new hope for their constituents. These buildings are collapsing, when instead they can be used; if we work to help bring this infrastructure back to life, we could make a big difference in and around Cleveland.
While I’m aware that Pittsburgh was hit harder when the steel collapsed, and much of what I’ve seen relates to that, there are many other places with similar issues – and the same recovery principles can be applied. Whether it’s the slums of your city or the impact of systematic racism elsewhere, you know what areas need help. We can do more than we think we can. We just have to try.