Saturday, October 18, 2008

Urban decay

On the way up to Merrillville last night, since I-65 was closed, we drove through downtown Gary, Indiana.

Shane and I just shook our heads in disbelief. While Shane says there are other areas of the city that are becoming revitalized, the part we drove through was a landscape of boarded-up buildings and urban decay. We could see that at one time, it had been a thriving downtown area, but there were more closed businesses than there were open ones. The marquee of the Palace Theater proclaimed"Jackson Five Tonight" in tumbling letters. (I suppose someone put that up as a joke, although they probably really did play there back in the day.)

The only other place I've driven through that seemed as bad or worse than Gary was East St. Louis, Missouri. Similarly, many large buildings were boarded up and sitting vacant. Driving through Gary made me want to find out a little bit more about the city.

Anyone who has driven by Gary, seen the smokestacks belching, and smelled the "unique" aroma, knows that Gary is a manufacturing town. Its biggest industry was once steel-making, and the city itself was founded by U.S. Steel in 1906 to provide a place for its workers to live. With the demise of the steel industry in the 70's and 80's, the city went into a rapid decline. Crime soared, and for several years, Gary was known as the murder capital of the country. In the 2000 census, the family median income was $32,205. 22% of the families lived below the poverty level, including 38% of those under 18. From the 1990 to the 2000 census, the population dropped 11.9%.

But the city seems to be making some progress, with some revitalization going on, especially considering the tourism possible with the Lake Michigan shore and casino boats. There are many vacant buildings slated for demolition, and they've worked hard to reduce the crime rate. In 2006, the homicide rate was down 13.5%, and Gary happily lost its title as murder capital. I hope they can continue the progress and bring the city back from its slow decay. There are some fine examples of architecture there, including buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

As we were driving along, and as I looked around me with somewhat of a sense of shock, I wondered if urban centers like these are the future ghost towns. When you travel the back roads, especially decommissioned highways like Route 66, you see many abandoned and crumbling buildings. Shane's friend Adam in San Diego is getting into "ghost towning," and there are plenty of them in the west, towns that sprang up around silver, gold, or copper mines and then faded away when the mine was tapped out. Gary still has a population of around 100,000, so it's probably not going to fade away like those small towns, but the area we drove through certainly seemed to be gasping its last breath. I found it very sad and eerie.

I hope Gary can keep going with a refocus on industries other than manufacturing, and that they can keep working on structural improvement. As we looked down side streets, there were some pretty homes. It seems that it's a city that has potential, its demise isn't inevitable, and that it doesn't have to become a ghost town.


  1. Gary still has a chance based on its proximity to Chi-Town and the Lake. Once outside of the French Quarter in NOLA, there were similar scenes.

  2. Zoinks! I could not resist with a term like Ghost Town! Bare with me I'm trying to channel my inner Shaggy. That is what I decided to be for todays Halloween party. I wisheed I didn't shave my own Goattee, last week. My family is getting together even though my Dad can't make it, I will get lots of video!

    Back to the subject matter, I feel that most towns, or cities are doing this. I think once the stores close, and the incomes are gone, people leave. I have my fingers crossed for Gary, and this country.

    Have a great weekend!


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  4. Beth,
    Danny and I lived in Highland, In. (right next to Gary) for 2 years when he was transferred to the FORD Chicago plant and everyone told us never to cross over the line into Gary! We also went to several concerts at the Star Plaza in Merrilville and really liked it because it was so small there really isn't a bad seat...
    We leave on our 'Hog's on the High Sea's' cruise 2 weeks from today!!

  5. Gary's always been like that, I think. When one area prospers, another area collapses.

    As for the marquee, if I remember, that was put up for either some album art or video footage for one of the Jackson Five reunions not too long ago.

  6. Sadly Gary seems to be the rule rather than the exception lately. There are towns in every state that look just like that. Makes me sad.
    Hugs, Joyce

  7. There are a lot of town like that in Western PA. Towns that were mill towns along the rivers. Most of them you would litterally be taking your life in your hands to go there after sundown. But some of the area have been made into waterfront water parks and upscale shopping.


  8. Like Wes, I would love to explore ghost towns. I've seen areas like that throughout NY. Right now I live in IBM country and they have been slowly downsizing their corporation...when you see a cop car patroling every night when 5 years ago that would of been rare, you get the idea which way your neighborhood is heading. It's scary to see a town invest in one singular enterprise (such as manufacturing) only to close in on itself once the machinery stops. (Hugs)Indigo

  9. I hope they can prosper once again. It is sad to see towns/cities fall by the wayside and crumble. I've heard of entire towns being for sale on Ebay, don't know if they sold or not.

    I think boarded up building look scary regardless of where they are, just something unnerving about it to me.

  10. I don't care if they lost their murder capitol status, I ain't stoppin' in any time soon. I don't know that I would've even driven through if I'd had any other choice or knew another way. But I suppose that's just because I don't want to be shot/stabbed/raped. It always depresses me to drive past the city. I'm always happy for those who are able to escape, as harsh a term that may sound.

  11. Beth Anne,

    You said: "Driving through Gary made me want to find out a little bit more about the city."

    The opportunity to "find out a little bit more about the city" is as close as your computer, and a whole lot safer!

    Pay a visit to Dave's Den. I guarantee you will linger there, as the site houses a wealth of info on the "Steel City," both past and present.

    Do feel free to come on by. You will not regret the time spent. Also, do not hesitate to comment on anything you find there.

  12. I am here to tell you Beth, that there are a lot of older industrial towns that are crumbling like Gary ... Detroit and Gary are linked by more than the Jackson's.

    Gonna have to disagree with your hubby though. Gambling has only built ONE,exactly ONE town, Las Vegas. You can't have a negative turn into a positive, and that is what gambling does, invites people to risk recklessly and for areas to become social wastelands where rules of civility and human kindness are supsended because of Money (either by the having or the loss of it) Whew!

  13. well written entry and interesting too. I find it interesting when you take a town like Gary and have to find a new way to make $$ so that there is some industry for the people to work at. That is all over Ohio too. XO


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