East St. Louis, IL
East St. Louis, Illinois, like so many other east-of-here's and west-of-there's, endures in the shadow of its eponymous sibling: St. Louis, Missouri lies just to the west, across the Mississippi River. East St. Louis was once a thriving riverside industrial town, but its fortunes unraveled in the middle of the last century, when industry left and the residential tax base followed. Its population shriveled from 82,000 to 27,000, and the remaining inhabitants now wear the city much like a dieter wears his old pants: adrift in surplus space. Throughout the city, rundown, abandonded lots form a backdrop to poverty – which hovers at a 30% rate – and to crime – with a per capita homicide rate eighteen times the national average. Yet while living in East St. Louis is not easy, its people persist. They work, play and carry on, revealing a decidedly determined side of the American Identity.