It’s easy to assume that centers of power hold the greatest opportunity for achievement; it’s why young people swarm the coasts, full of idealism and cliched dreams, and to a certain extent, the potential for innovation within established cities is true. But to be amongst the interchangeable hordes of talented, ambitious, creative young people in a major city is often to also harbor a conflicting desire to escape to a simpler place.
I grew up largely in Cleveland, one of those Rust Belt cities that seems to be in a permanent state of decline; when I was living in San Francisco I found myself yearning to return, not necessarily because life would be simpler, but because amidst the decay that so many on the coasts locate within the middle of the country there is also tremendous potential for wholesale reinvention, on a scale unimaginable in a place like San Francisco or Manhattan. Detroit and New Orleans have also both been able to attract idealist, innovative young people in spite of their national reputations as dead-end places: these cities are not dessicated husks but vital opportunities for intervention and discovery.
I made my peace by moving across the bay from San Francisco to Oakland (or as I call it, the Cleveland of California; problematic, sure, but unfairly maligned by those who willfully ignore its awesomeness). But it’s important to remember that opportunity exists not only in dense clusters of wealth and power, but also — and more powerfully — wherever there is need.