IntoPittsburgh is a big tent. Pittsburgh might not be the center of your universe, but you can still be part of our club. Pittsburgh is a complicated cultural geography, belonging to more than one region (see Appalachian Diaspora) and shares an economic history with cities around the world. Problems in Hartford are not all that different from the issues people in Buffalo face:
Since the days when Nelton Court was built, Hartford's population has shrunk. In an article about the travails of Buffalo, N.Y., in the autumn issue of City Journal, Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser observes that shrinking cities invite poverty, for two reasons. The obvious one is that the loss of population usually means jobs have vanished, and so people get poorer. The less obvious reason is that declining areas "become magnets for poor people, attracted by cheap housing."
He continues, "The influx of the poor reinforces a city's downward spiral, since it drives up public expenditures while doing little to expand the local tax base."
Pittsburgh isn't the only city that would benefit from activating its diaspora. The Erie Diaspora has its own corner of the blogosphere. I think a similar model would work well for Buffalo. I'm forever fascinated with the doings in and around Youngstown. All of the above websites are action-oriented blogs dedicated to improving their city and region.
Chris Varley suggested a good project for us like-minded bloggers. Richard Herman, via Mr. Varley's blog, floated the idea of lobbying to create more H-1B visa immigration into the Rust Belt region:
This might be a good time to propose to Congress/Administration the creation of “High Skill Immigration Zones” in parts of the country that are struggling to making the transition to a knowledge-based economy (e.g., Rust Belt Cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, etc.), and which are progressively depopulating and destabilizing.
As a result of the IntoPittsburgh meeting over the Thanksgiving holiday, I am aware of efforts to do something akin to Mr. Herman's plan (albeit for Pittsburgh purposes). Shrinking cities acting in concert would be more effective and the Rust Belt region deserves an advocacy group for urban development given the common issues plaguing its cities.
The first step should be identifying existing initiatives that we might join. I know that the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution has a few promising avenues for us to explore:
The United States is undergoing a profound economic restructuring, due to pressures of globalization and the rising knowledge economy. America's Great Lakes region, once the core of the nation’s industrial production and wealth creation, is losing ground rapidly. At this critical moment, federal investment in U.S. competitiveness lacks a regional focus. Federal policy fails to recognize that national growth is driven by integrated regional economies with the strong underlying assets necessary for talent creation and innovation.
Given the benefits of taking the leap and reaching out to make a connection, I'll contact Bruce Katz and find out if he's interested in helping to enable the IntoPittsburgh network. At the very least, I hope to connect Mr. Katz with the nascent H-1B visa project in Pittsburgh. But I would wager that I could involve other shrinking cities via the network of action-oriented bloggers concerned with economic development.