Monday, May 12, 2008

Brain Exchange Cincyburgh

Dropping Richard Longworth's name drew my attention to an Urbanophile blog post about the wonders of Cincinnati:

Yet, I'm always befuddled as well as I puzzle a great conundrum: if Cincinnati is so great, how come it isn't the San Francisco of the Midwest instead of a typical, modestly stagnated Midwestern city?

I'm struck by the similarities between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. I don't know how Richard Longworth would evaluate the ability of each city to cope with globalization because neither are included in the definition of the Midwest mega-region. But I am interested in discovering what makes Cincinnati different from Pittsburgh.

The Urbanophile doesn't claim to know why all of Cincinnati's wonderful urban assets have not translated into economic success, but the blog does offer one possible rationale:

It just goes to show that what I said in my pecha kucha presentation was true: cities are about people, not just buildings. All the great geography, architecture, etc. in the world isn't a sufficient condition to create a thriving, dynamic city.

I'd bet the above is true for most shrinking cities. Rust Belt urbanism is a treasure trove for any aficionado of place. Lacking is a critical mass of dynamic people. Many movers and shakers are migrants, the mobile class. But the Postindustrial Heartland isn't importing as many of these people as it is exporting (net "brain drain").

I'm not a fan of working against the grain of geographic mobility. However, I don't see anything wrong with encouraging intra-regional migration. If the best and the brightest must leave, why not keep them within the mega-region? Pittsburgh talent seeking new horizons goes to Cincinnati; and Cincinnati talent seeking new horizons goes to Cincinnati. I realize that might seem too incestuous, but I'm confident that there is enough geographic variation within the Great Lakes Union to provide novel opportunity. At the very least, we might begin to dismantle those silos that Richard Longworth laments as holding the Midwest back.


Brian West said...

But if Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are similar, what would motivate the dynamic and mobile to move from one city to the other? If the cities can articulate (and market) their differences, then each might be seen as a desirable alternative.

I think these cities' problem is similar to El Paso's. Do Cinci or Pittsburgh seem cool to an outsider?

Jim Russell said...

The majority of domestic migration decisions for the 20-something demographic does not concern economic considerations. The first move is mostly about escaping one's hometown. But many Rust Belt cities are not on the mental map. Being from Pittsburgh, you probably know more about NYC than Cincy.

I've found that outsiders tend to cultivate a better appreciation (i.e. seems cool) of a city than insiders.

Think about it in terms of how dad can seem cooler as you get older.

The Urbanophile said...

Thanks for the mention of my post! I appreciate it. I actually wrote a long review of Longworth's book, if you didn't see it already:

Jim Russell said...

I think I linked to your review, but if I didn't, it is well worth the read if other people haven't seen it.