Where Did Everybody Go? – A Changing Gears Special

Former Detroiter Alex Ozark on the Hyundai-Kia proving grounds in California / Credit: Charla Bear

Many of us have friends or family members that have moved away from the Midwest.

In the Changing Gears special “Where Did Everybody Go?” we’re talking with some of those people who have moved out of the region – asking them why they left, what they found, and if they’ll ever come back.

We also take a look at what their departure means for the region.

You can listen to some of those stories here.

Part I: What’s So Great About Austin? Plenty, According To Former Midwesterners

Part II: The Appeal Of Portland

Part III: Detroit Coney Dogs On The Sunset Strip

Part IV: A Generation Moves Off The Farm

You can listen to the hour long Changing Gears special “Where Did Everybody Go” Sunday, 9 pm ET, on Michigan Radio; Monday, 10 am CT, on WBEZ Chicago; or Tuesday, 8 pm, on ideastream Cleveland.

Midwest Migration: Detroit Coney Dogs On The Sunset Strip

Alex Ozark on the Hyundai-Kia proving grounds / Credit: Charla Bear

No city has been more affected by Midwestern out-migration than Detroit.

Based on the latest census numbers, the city is losing about 2 people every hour.

Changing Gears has been talking with some of those people who are leaving our region.

Alex Ozark grew up in Detroit. He always wanted to work in the auto industry, but he’s not doing it with the Big Three. He’s doing it in California.

Charla Bear brings us this report:

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Alex Ozark drives like a maniac in his company’s cars, treating a black SUV like a cross between a tank and a sports car.

“So we’ll do, we’ll do a hot lap.”

He deliberately hits potholes, runs over lane dividers, and takes corners really fast. So fast, I have a death grip on the grab handle.
Continue reading “Midwest Migration: Detroit Coney Dogs On The Sunset Strip”

Midwest Migration: A Generation Moves Off The Farm

This week on Changing Gears we’re talking about people who are leaving the Midwestern industrial corridor. Some of the areas hardest hit by out-migration are small rural communities. They are facing a triple whammy – the decline of manufacturing, farming and shipping sectors.

North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann tracked the journey of one woman who moved from a tiny town to New York City. He brings us this report:

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Mark Scarlett and his daughter, Becca Johnson, on their farm in Rossie, NY.

It’s hard to imagine just how small Becca Johnson’s hometown is. Her parents moved to Rossie, in upstate New York, in the 1970s, part of the farming and manufacturing belt that stretched from the Northeast to the Midwest.

Their family homesteaded in an old abandoned barn.

“No running water and no toilet, or anything like that,” says Johnson. She was practically a teenager before her family got indoor plumbing. “It had an interesting influence on my social life,” she says.

Continue reading “Midwest Migration: A Generation Moves Off The Farm”

Midwest Migration: What’s So Great About Austin? Plenty, According To Former Midwesterners

This week Changing Gears is taking a closer look at the Midwest Migration, and we’re talking with people who have left the region. Reporter Peter O’Dowd met with some of those former Midwesterners living in Austin, Texas, and brings us this report:

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The Brookings Institution reports that 20-somethings fled Detroit and Chicago at the end of the last decade for places like Seattle and Portland. Cities they thought were cool. “Cool” has become a selling point for young professionals. And perhaps no city has it figured out better than Austin, Texas. Over the next few days Changing Gears will profile people who have left the Midwest, and that’s where we go next – to the home of music festivals known around the world.

John Livingston at the Pour House in Austin, Texas / Credit: Peter O'Dowd

John Livingston and his friends say Austin has a soul, and on a gorgeous Friday night in March you can see why.

Livingston is a lot like any other 24-year old. He and his friends still like to party, and on this night, they’re doing it on the north side of town.

Not long ago, Livingston and four others moved to Austin from Bloomington, Indiana.

It was January 2010. College was coming to an end. The friends were drinking at their favorite hang-out, and wondering what to do next in life. It was pretty clear that Bloomington – a city of 80,000 and home to Indiana University – didn’t have what they wanted.

“We just started thinking of places to go – something different, something new. By the end of the night we were all just chanting Austin. We wanted to go to Austin. We were all about Austin,” says Livingston.

Continue reading “Midwest Migration: What’s So Great About Austin? Plenty, According To Former Midwesterners”

Beginning This Weekend, A Changing Gears Special: “Where Did Everybody Go?”

Over the past few months, you’ve been reading and listening to Changing Gears’ special reports on Midwest Migration — the people who moved away.

Beginning this weekend, tune in for Changing Gears’ hour-long documentary, “Where Did Everybody Go?”

Hosted by Richard Steele of WBEZ Chicago, “Where Did Everybody Go” tells the stories of people who left the Midwest, and some who came home.

We’ll visit Portland, Austin, New York City, upstate New York and Los Angeles. We’ll talk with Jim Russell, a geographer who writes the Burgh Diaspora blog, and Dan Moilanen, a Flint, Mich., native who went to Austin to work for Apple, and came back to help his hometown.

Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard will also be part of the special, which was produced by award-winning journalist Kate Concannon. The special is informed by the Public Insight Network.

“Where Did Everybody Go” airs at these dates and times:

Or you can come back here to listen to the show. Be sure to join us, for “Where Did Everybody Go?”

Midwest Migration: The Appeal Of Portland

Carla Danley / Credit: Chris Lehman

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If you wanted to start life over in a new place, would you choose somewhere with a chronically high unemployment rate and struggling schools, or one that’s known as a haven for slackers? The latter is one way to describe Portland, Oregon.

It seems like everyone is talking about Portland these days. Part of that has to do with the success of Portlandia, a sketch comedy show that pokes fun at Portland’s young hipster crowd. As one character explains, “Portland is a city where young people go to retire.”

But not everyone who moves to Portland is a twenty-something slacker. The city still draws out-of-state transplants, including highly educated professionals.

More than half of all Oregon residents were born somewhere else. As part of our Changing Gears project, reporter Chris Lehman introduces us to two families who moved to Portland from the Midwest. Continue reading “Midwest Migration: The Appeal Of Portland”

A Visual Guide To Midwest Migration During The Great Recession

Over the last few weeks, we have been hearing from people who have left the region to settle in other parts of the country and the world. We’ve been mapping the migration and documenting the experiences of these Midwestern exiles. We’ve heard from around 200 people. Now that the project is wrapping up, we wanted to know how these stories compare to regional trends.

See a larger version here

Pining for a Small Town, from Hollywood

Name: Sarah Wells
Midwest Home: Van Wert, OH
New Home: Hollywood, CA

I left my small town in Ohio to become a working actor. It seemed to me the only way to do this was to be in a city where the entertainment industry is in national shape. Four years later, I can see that I was wrong, and I would give anything to have never left at all.

I think everyone who has left the Midwest ought to go home where they belong. We as a nation have created cities where no one knows anyone else outside of their little created circles.

The ideal small town, the one of our collective American dream, is one in which the dentist sings in your church choir and the grocer is the brother of your doctor, and we all work together to help each other out, spending our money amongst ourselves and enriching each other instead of outside, unnamed, faceless corporations. This is what we have in Los Angeles, it’s accidentally been created by people who left what was left of a functioning community.

The Midwest Has No Culture…Right?

Frank Gruber

Culture means different things to different people. Whatever it means, the Midwest isn’t known for it. Motown may have changed the face of music forever, but the company also moved to L.A. when it wanted to expand. Just a few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a (widely derided) article about how Midwest food culture is so retro it’s still impossible to be a vegetarian here.

People often mentioned a lack of culture as something that sent them packing from the heartland in submissions to our Midwest Migration project.

But we’ve also heard from plenty of people who think the Midwest has culture to celebrate. Here’s a mash-up of those submissions. We’ve created a pretend conversation using the real words of some of the people we heard from.

Chris Molnar: I always wanted to leave the Midwest. Although I was raised in Iowa City, Iowa, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, I identified with the idea of the big coastal city. I knew that I would be accepted there for who I am, someone craving culture and rejecting homogeneous provincialism.

Chris O’Neill: Over the course of my 20 year career in banking, I’ve relocated now eleven times, three of which brought me to the Chicagoland area.  The quality of life and the cultural offerings provided by the city is hard to find elsewhere.  Not to put down my new home of Dallas, but it’s certainly no Chicago.

Continue reading “The Midwest Has No Culture…Right?”

Comparing Mexico to Michigan, Apples to Oranges?

Name: Esperanza Rubio Torres
Midwest Home: Lansing, MI
New Home: San Luis Potosi, Mexico

I was making ends meet by working a couple waitressing jobs, the winter was coming, and I think I had gotten depressed and sort of refused to recognize it. My life was in an ugly rut. After much thought, I threw all my cares to the wind. I sold my car and I quit my jobs and got out of Michigan. It was really freeing and scary and amazing.

I can’t give any real reason why I left, exactly, but I just felt like I was done with Michigan and Michigan was done with me. I ended up moving to Mexico with my parents who had decided to retire there.

Is it better here in Mexico than in Michigan? I think it is unfair to compare, it’s apples and oranges. I am happier and healthier than I was in Michigan.

I have no plans to move back to the Midwest, but I miss my friends and the family I left there. I still recall with great joy the beautiful moments I spent there, and the warmness of the people in the city I was born in. Lansing really is a gem, and anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t really know Lansing. That said, I do not miss the winter–so many grey months where I felt sad and depressed, shoveling, expensive produce, and driving everywhere. I really love where I am now, and the challenges I’m facing. In the event that I did return, I know the Midwest, and Lansing in particular, would welcome me back with arms wide open.