I rode a bus yesterday with about 25 people who are attending the GLUE conference through tomorrow. Most of the people on the tour were from Pittsburgh, which meant either that we never get tired of looking at our city through the eyes of others or that a lot of people from out of town were late in arriving.
We toured Oakland, East Liberty, Lawrenceville, the Strip, Downtown, Mount Washington, Allentown and the South Side. The whole time, I yearned to steer them to the North Side.
Most of the people on the bus were in their 30s, late 20s or early 40s, and it dawned on me that the local organizers just don’t think of the North Side as a place that age group would be interested in. It isn’t true, but we haven’t proven that on a large enough scale.
Jeff Vines and his twin brother, Randy, 33, are attending from St. Louis. That’s Jeff being photographed on an overlook on Mount Warsh.
The Vines exemplify the adherence to GLUE, a network that stands for Great Lakes Urban Exchange.
The Vines love their Rust Belt hometown, want it to become a place that other young and youngish types would love too and are trying to do something about it.
The brothers started stl-style.com, a company that designs and markets St. Louis-themed merchandise that you don’t get in the tourist shops. Their motto is “You can’t spell STYLE without STL.”
You can read more about the merchandise ventures of other Rust Belt aficionados here.
At left you can see that St. Louis is pretty compact. The map reminds me of a pork chop or a mutant, pregnant fish with the Mississippi River running along its belly.
Read more about the GLUE conference in Sunday's paper (or Monday’s, if it gets held).
The Vine brothers' love for their city is so charming and strong that it's infectious. That kind of ardor shouldn't be underestimated as a sales tool. I was already sold on St. Lou, having tooled around there in the mid-'80s, memorably listening to blues in club after club on Olive Street. That was when it was still a little too authentic for non-urbanites.
I can still feel the humidity.
GLUE is a network that makes me feel the Rust Belt has its own special ... what? glamour isn’t the word because that isn’t true or interesting, but maybe you know what I mean. It's like the nerd who went from getting bullied to getting a whoppin' signing bonus.
What we post-industrial cities have besides affordable properties, vacant land and opportunities to have a big impact without a big bank account is charm for lack of charm, character and authenticity. Same thing with Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, St. Louis.
We in the 'burgh joke that we’re always 10 years behind the cool places, but I think it’s the other way around. We’re pre-cool, 10 years ahead of the Portlands. If we're lucky, we will stay pre-cool, never to quite get there. And maybe they'll never catch up with us.