What is cool? What makes something “cooler” or more “hip” than another?
The concept doesn’t have defined boundaries or a clear-cut definition. In a way it has two meanings, or two bases at least. The coolness of Justin Bieber or the Harlem Shake is not the same as Thelonious Monk and the real Harlem Shake.
There is a cool created for us, for mass consumption, and there is a cool that comes from the bottom and builds up.
Since cool is vague (and vogue), what makes a city cool?
When I visit other cities I look for the things that make them different than Cleveland. Each city will have its differences in look, geography, people. But on a basic level the streetscapes are similar, filled with restaurants and bars, homes and businesses.
Apart from name changes on the awnings, at their heart, cities are nothing more than places that provide amenities its citizens need to live. Cool comes from what those citizens are doing.
The differences, often stemmed in regionalism, are what give the city a sense of place. The history of a city, the people that settled there, those collaborate and breed to give a city character.
In the Cajun Country episode of No Reservations, Bourdain talks with writer Lolis Elie, who says:
New Orleans we get emblematic food, emblematic music, emblematic architecture. And we are an example for the rest of the country to rediscover those things about themselves…I believe that in all these other places, there are local foods, local traditions. We celebrate them here. I think you should celebrate them wherever you are and wherever you’re from. -Lolis Elie
Cool comes from being true to your roots.
Now enter Rust Belt chic. That term, itself unclear, has been center in recent Cleve-o-centric blog debate. A post from Angie Schmitt appears to be a reply to Richey Piiparinen’s post (see Part 1) on the topic.
Then somewhere along the way Rust Belt Chic turned from irony into actuality, and the Rust Belt from a pejorative into a badge of honor. -Richey Piiparinen
Piiparinen interprets it as rooted reality that has since become cool. Schmitt sees “fetishizing ruin.”
Industrial ruins aren’t just a pretty backdrop to live a “chic” life. They represent lives of poverty, unemployment, and abandonment, and in Cleveland–unlike in several northern Brooklyn neighborhoods–there is no separating the two: profound, desperate poverty and the post-industrial landscape. -Angie Schmitt
In those ruins, I do see shades of the lives that came before. We should see the history these industrial remnants represent. That is a part of us, a part of our story.
As ugly and industrial as Cleveland is, I see a beauty in it, which adds more paradox in the idea of Rust Belt chic. I love seeing the factories in the river valley with the drab skyline sitting behind. Throw in an October-gray sky for the full experience. Not glamorous, but it’s real. And it’s Cleveland.
Just like pierogies and spaetzle are more than simple sustenance.
We have our culture based in our history. Without recognizing our history we cannot properly move forward; we would become just like every other city.
One foot in the past, the other in the present, as we look to the future.
Our culture isn’t any better than the culture of any other city, nor is their culture better than ours. Culture can’t be compared as better or worse. Of course, I’ll still think so, as I think the U.S. is the best country and the Milky Way is the best galaxy.
Whether it’s cool or not, not for us to decide. Better yet, not for us to care. Cool is all in the mind.