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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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41 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    Ooo how to develop Florida’s creative class by market study and focus groups!!!!

    It seems to me that a lot of cities in North America and possibly Western Europe (I’ve heard Londoners and others complain about hipsterfication and gentrification) are putting all their hopes on a cultural middle class to upper-middle class with bourgeois-bohemian tastes.

    I recently visited friends in Santa Cruz, California. The city is about an hour and a half from San Francisco and home to a UC-Campus. It is also a very beautiful area with beaches and redwoods but the city is trying to do the same thing. Despite being a university town, my friends said that there is not much industry and most people commute to San Jose or other places in Silicon Valley for work and live in Santa Cruz as a bedroom commuter city of 60,000. We went to an old industrial area that is being turned into something more commercial. There was a brewpub, some wineries/tasting rooms, a store selling surfer style clothing, and French bakery and some other retail. It basically turned an industrial warehouse zone into a shopping mall.

    I admit to liking this stuff but it seems obvious to me that there are only so many middle class and upper-middle class hipsters with professional jobs (I reject the term creative class as being overly broad) and bourgeois-bohemian tastes. I can see why Hamilton and Santa Cruz can develop such communities. I am skeptical about whether Elmira, New York and similar areas can develop creative class type of economies. People are willing to move into loft spaces in Brooklyn and the Bronx or across the river in New Jersey because it is an easy commute to Manhattan and Brooklyn already had culture like the Brooklyn Academy of Music and their next wave festival. There is a culture already there and accessible and more culture will build around it. I imagine Hamilton is close enough to Toronto. The Bay Area is already distinct in culture and so is Portland, Seattle, LA, Chicago, Minneapolis, etc. Elmira is just a little town in upstate New York and far from NYC. You can’t commute and building up a culture/art stuff there is hard. People would get bored about the same art walk and same artists again and again. Every labor day weekend, the town of Salsulito hosts the Marin Art Fair, they have good artists but the rotation does not change enough.

    My guess is that everyone takes gentrification as a give and doesn’t know how to rebuild real industry. A craft brewery or cool coffee shop or artisanal jam maker is easy to imagine and realize. It feels like economic scaling back in many ways though, a return to a barter or sustenance economy.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      Actual industry — meaning a business that makes physical objects for sale — is not often loved by those who urban plan. It generates pollution, it creates traffic, its employees are not particularly high income and therefore require sub-luxury housing at affordable rates, it tends to depress property values and thus tax rates nearby, and to attract it municipalities often have to agree to reduce existing tax rates.

      Better to have pedestrian malls with attractive wrought-iron light fixtures studded with fancy sandwich shops, boutiques selling vintage clothing, a well-behaved brewpub, an arthouse movie theater, and an Apple store. Hopefully tenants with trust funds will move in to the nearby loft apartments demanding premium rents next door to the cruddy old city, that the area may gentrify.

      There is, I believe, a factory somewhere extruding this revitalized inner-city neighborhood, for they all look alike. I like the one in my neck of the woods just fine. But there does need to be some sort of base supporting the apex of the pyramid thus described.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I don’t disagree with this and I do like the boho-bohemian stuff but there is a real economic issue of decreased wages and impracticality and non-scale.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Urban planners want to create attractive cities and communities filled with well-behaved attractive people with sophisticated but still conventional tastes. Industry isn’t pretty even when the finished product is capable of being a work of beauty like a car. Industry also brings many problems and a certain amount of chaos to cities. Thats why planned communities often seem so sterile, corporate, and them park like even if most urban planners would shutter at thinking themselves corporate in anyway.

        You can’t design vibrant communities and cities. You can design a nice place to live but the beating energy that people like about certain neighborhoods comes from organic growth, decay, and regrowth. Williamsburg didn’t become a hip place to live because of committee. It became a hip place to live because artistic and bohemian types were attracted to Williamsburg because of cheap rents and it grew from there.Report

    • A lot of (non-white collar) industry also often brings unpleasant things with them. Emissions, odors, new neighbors. Which is why it gets chased out of town in some places where it has existed by wealthier, newer residents. People often support things in the abstract while seeking to undermine it (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) around them.

      We are in relatively unusual agreement about the Creative Class (or whatever we want to call it). At best, it lead to competition of a finite thing. At worst, it was an avaricious con job.

      Really, we can only hope that Bangladesh reaches the point where they can advocate for better labor laws. That would represent a huge improvement. And then low-wage capital does indeed move, and then hopefully those people will reach they point where they can advocate for change.

      Cost of living is hard to discuss in a national sense. Living is quite affordable in much of the country, even while it’s not as affordable in other places.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        The issue seems to be economics and types of work. As far as I can tell, areas that are very affordable have job markets that range from the non-existent to the anemic. Detroit is highly affordable. It might paradoxically be still too expensive for many people because of the low job levels. A guy from my apartment building moved to SF from Portland and I asked him why and he said he moved to SF because he was working “New York hours for Portland pay.” He is in advertising.Report

      • That’s a common misperception among people who live in expensive areas. That if cost of living is lower, then the jobs must pay crap. (Portland isn’t a great example, for a variety of reasons. It grew on a cultural basis without being a major job centers. Jobs came afterwards and the unemployment rate fell, but it wouldn’t surprise me if things are still off-kilter there.)

        But you can compare salaries and cost of living together. You get lists like this. San Jose and Seattle are even on it, though they’re the exception to the southern and midwestern rule. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to move to Houston, of course. It does undercut the force of the cost-of-living arguments, though.Report

      • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Will Truman says:


        I think the picture is very complicated and no doubt there are areas that you describe. I met a guy who moved to Montana because he could live well and spend most of his time doing outdoor activities like skiing in the winter and golf in the summer and still earn a decent living as a contractor. All the power to him.

        I also think there are lots of dead or dying industrial areas like Hamilton that are trying to remake themselves via the way described by Lee and Rufus and Richard Florida. My alma mater is in a town called Poughkeepsie. The wealth from the college does not seem to spread into the town. Poughkeepsie used to have a lot of industry but it dried up seemingly. Many people commuted into NYC everyday (2 hours each way on train).Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      Santa Cruz has been a university town for decades and a resort town since the turn of the twentieth century so it always had the necessary incredients to be a small hipster city because of its college and resort town vibe. It never was much of an industrial city.

      You can’t really create cities like Santa Cruz or transform former industrial cities into hipster cities with the power of marketing. There needs to be an independent reason for the cities existence like a university. The people going to a university or working for a university in a college town form the customer base for the small businesses of the town. If the university is large enough, your talking about tens of thousands of people for most of the year. Thats enough for a small thriving city. If you don’t have a university than you need access to a large employers because you can’t have a city where everybody or even the majority is involved with hipster businesses.Report

  2. Avatar Saul DeGraw says:

    I also think that we are currently in the economic throws of dealing with disruption and wages going down too much. I suppose the more libertarian and neo-liberal argument is “Why should you care about a Hamilton steel worker when you can raise a Bangeldeshi family out of poverty?” Of course this is until the Bangeldesh families start agitating for unions and then capital will move once again.

    The problem is even as wages go down, the price of real estate remains sky high even with upzoning. Land is finite and people are trying to find ways to repurpose old land but the new craft economies do not scale and their prices are high. Hence the need to attract as many upper-middle class people as possible.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      I can’t speak for neo-liberals or even all libertarians, but that’s not really the argument. The argument is that, if it is cheaper to make steel in Bangladesh than it is to make steel in Hamilton, then throwing up artificial barriers to keep steel plants in Hamilton is both wealth destroying (in terms of the Bangladeshi workers that could have better jobs and the higher prices for steel that get transmitted to all the products that use steel) and will only delay the inevitable. So, you end up with Detroit, which instead of taking steps to modernize the car industry and diversify its economy just kept moving itself right along towards economic irrelevancy.

      Part of caring about the Hamilton steel worker is exposing him to the market signals that might let him know that steel work is no longer a viable career path before it is too late for him to do something else. The other part is helping those already stuck in that path to transition to something else, or somewhere else if need be.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r says:

        Its a lot easier for some cities to diversify than others. Detroit is an interesting case in that it was million plus people city completely dominated by one industry.* Every other city above a million people during Detroit’s hey-day had much more diverse economies. There were lots of smaller cities that were basically one-trick ponies because of they way they developed. Akron, Ohio is a good example. It would be next to impossible for cities like Akron to diversify their economies because they didn’t really have a high enough population or geographic local that would lead to a multi-face economy.

        Even if a city had a diverse economy, it could still get hit hard by a changing economy. Cleveland and St. Louis had more multi faced economies that Detroit did but both faired just as badly after 1960.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to j r says:

        Akron has actually diversified fairly well. While Detroit’s and Flint’s unemployment rates are around 17%, Akron’s is 7.5%. It’s actually well located. If you’re going East-West or vice-versa and have to duck under the lakes, you’re not far from Akron. It’s in a triangle that includes Western NY and PA, Columbus, and Toledo, Fort Wayne and the Detroit metro area (which is thriving, even if the city isn’t), and is easy access to Chicago as well. It’s also close to Cuyahoga National Park.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

      In some ways, I can’t help but think that the alleged scarcity of land in places like America or Australia is highly artificial. You guys have lots of wide open spaces that just don’t seem to be used by anyone.Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Murali says:


        In Australia there’s a lot of land but most of it is basically uninhabitable.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        Don’t a lot of !kung bushmen live in said allegedly uninhabitable places? I’m pretty sure some sort of technological solution involving desalination, long water pipelines and extensive irrigation can make more areas of Australia habitable.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        But I’m not even talking about that. At the margins, expanding the spread of various cities shouldn’t be that prohibitively costly absent legal zoning restrictions.Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to Murali says:

        The issue in the US is more where people are forced to live for jobs. Yes the midwest has lots of land, with water etc, but folks don’t want to live there. Ca is basically empty land with a few areas heavily settled i.e Ca is 92.6% urban and 7.4% rural, which is higher even that Hi. Indeed it appears that Ca is the most urbanized state in the country. For the US as a whole it is 75% urban 25% rural. The least urbanized states look like Vt and WV.Report

  3. Avatar Citizen says:

    Cultural vibrancy:
    Quantum measure of local optimism when the velocity of money approaches zero.Report

  4. Avatar James Hanley says:

    But as manufacturing dries up across North America,

    Respectfully, that’s not true. I haven’t looked at the data for Canada, but manufacturing output in the U.S. is still very strong. It’s just more efficient, using far fewer workers. See here.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley says:

      I think that’s a valid use of “dries up”.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley says:

      If not the most precise term, but the decline of employment is a significant phenomenon that’s a lot more relevant to a manufacturing-heavy locale than the increase in output (which is distributed worldwide).Report

    • One person is talking about manufacturing and the other is taking about manufacturing employment.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

      @chris, @dan-miller

      Please don’t move the goalposts. It’s unseemly.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        @james-hanley , I’m pretty sure what all of us, including Will, are trying to say is that Rufus was talking about a different pair of goal posts entirely. Recall that his post is about the people and culture of his town, so it makes little sense to talk about production in that context.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley says:

        Exactly. In the context of this particular post, the loss of manufacturing employment is far more important than the increase in manufacturing output, so any remotely charitable reading will grant that “manufacturing dries out” is at worst synecdoche. That’s not “unseemly”.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Maybe, but I often hear people sayings like, “this country doesn’t make stuff anymore.” There is widespread confusion out there; people continually mistake the decreased employment for decreased production. If we went to any ballpark in America and asked people about this, wagering on each one, I’d empty your wallet.

        And Rufus’s word choice is “manufacturing,” not “employment.” I’m only holding him to the meaning of his words.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


        “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

        Manufacturing actually means something, and it means something different than manufacturing employment. If you want to say the one word us generally understood to mean the other, I have to disagree. That actual manufacturing has not declined is not well understood by Americans, left, right, or center, so the word manufacturing is not going to be generally understood to mean not manufacturing but only employment. I can’t speak for Canadians.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to James Hanley says:

      Imagine he’d written “manufacturing employment” instead of just “manufacturing”.

      Does this thread still exist?

      If not, then why did it even start?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        Wait, you’re all right! I meant manufacturing employment and my wording was inprecise enough to give the w rong impression. I live in a city where lots of people are raised to work in manufacturing and there just aren’t asmany jobs for them as there used to be. It’s an important distinction that manufacturing means output, but that’s not an area I feel comfortable speculating about, nor was I intending to.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I consider it noteworthy – in keeping with my own comment and @burt-likko ‘s above, that states angle and lobby for industry while cities do the same for culture. I would blame Richard Florida and his con job misguided thesis for the latter, but he was only telling the right people what they wanted to hear: in order to become a more successful city, the city needs to supply the cultural upper crest with what they want. When speaking to the upper crest, that’s a winning argument!

    At the state level, tax income is tax income. And unlike cities, they don’t necessarily have to live near whatever is being attracted. Making a sales pitch for a Sriracha plant is easier in the vaguaries of a state than it is for a town that would be living near it. The states want white collar jobs too, and most of all, but they see the upsides of virtually any sort of job attraction that doesn’t raise huge alarm bells (oil refineries, for example, or fracking). More local governments are much more attuned to the local effects. Which makes attracting some people, and industry, much more attractive than others.Report

  6. Avatar dhex says:

    so…art is the new steel.

    and we learned from the truthers that steel don’t melt.

    therefore, art is fireproof.

    anyway, good luck to hamilton. they’re gonna need it.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    For reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on, these cultural ideas seem somewhat detached from anything concrete.

    Culture can reinforce concrete. (Because it’s steel.)Report

  8. Thanks for this, Rufus. Hamilton really doesn’t get a lot of attention. I imagine part of that is its image as a drying up steel town, and part of that is just being overshadowed by Toronto. Not part of Eastern, Western, Southwestern or Norther Ontario, it doesn’t have its own place. It’s just a part of the Golden Horseshoe, wedged somewhere between the 905 and Niagara.

    Personally, I know nothing of Hamilton’s culture. I didn’t know about James St. (which sounds cool) or with the attempts to grow into this bohemian identity. I’ve been to Hamilton once (probably 20 years ago), and the stretch of downtown I was in fit in perfectly with the stereotype of a dying manufacturing town. It makes me glad to think that such an impression may be (either now or soon) erroneous.Report