I'm a few chapters shy of finishing Richard Longworth's "Caught in the Middle." Longworth doesn't think Chicago's shoulders are big enough to hold up the Rust Belt mega-region. He spots a few success stories in the Midwest, but nothing that would raise a place to the level of world city. Most cities, such as Cleveland or Detroit, globalization will leave behind. Other cities, such as Milwaukee, might follow Chicago out of the post-industrial economic malaise. Regardless, Longworth is sure that the Midwest needs a few more winners like Chicago.
The first key to unlocking the wealth tied up in globalization concerns demographics. A few Rust Belt cities are, somewhat surprisingly, attracting a number of international migrants. However, the new arrivals bring a different set of challenges and a city needs more than immigrants to grab a spot on the economic world stage.
Longworth figures what Chicago did right is to preserve a vital urban core, The Loop. He sees the same potential in downtown Milwaukee. Cleveland isn't so lucky, with the bulk of the educated workforce residing on the fringes in suburbs and exurbs. My sense is that Pittsburgh is in the same boat as Milwaukee, but sorely lacking significant immigration. There have been a few missteps (e.g. casino development), but Pittsburgh's urban core survives intact. The topography surrounding the Golden Triangle would seem to force the kind of density that globalization rewards.