Many second-tier midwestern cities have tried to reinvent themselves in different ways, with varying degrees of success. Pittsburgh, for instance, has sought to reimagine itself as a high-tech center, and has met with more success than just about anywhere else. Still, its population has declined from a high of almost 700,000 in the mid-20th century to roughly 300,000 today. There will be fewer manufacturing jobs on the other side of the crisis, and the U.S. economic landscape will be more uneven—“spikier”—as a result. Many of the old industrial centers will be further diminished, perhaps permanently so.
I think Dr. Florida is saying that Pittsburgh needs to do more, much more. An interview in the same issue makes clear what he has in mind (for Pittsburgh as well as Ontario):
Here are one or two things that I think could pay dividends, in addition to broadband and Internet and all of this connectivity. One, I think the United States needs to upgrade its airports. I mean, I recently met an Austrian friend at a conference in Moscow, and she said to me—and it was heartbreaking—“You know, when I fly now from Shanghai or Beijing to the United States, it reminds me of when I was a little girl and I used to fly back from Eastern Europe to Western Europe because the infrastructure looks bad.” Obviously, international airports and international global connectivity are really key to a global economy. We need to bring our airports—Dulles Airport, for example—into the 20th or 21st century.
Secondly, rail connectivity within the mega-regions. There are the fast trains along the Boston/New York/Washington corridor that have allowed Washington, in effect, to become a commuter suburb of greater New York. But how about a place like Detroit? If Detroit were better connected to Chicago, one could imagine Detroit having a better reason for existing. Or Pittsburgh. If Pittsburgh were better connected to Chicago or even to Washington, D.C.—it’s only a four-hour drive—that could spur growth.
In this era of globalization, connectivity is king. During my first year of blogging, connectivity was a major theme. It also informs the Manifesto for a New Pittsburgh. However, alpha global cities aren't the only relationship targets. I see value in greater connectivity with Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland, and Columbus. Direct lines between Pittsburgh and Chicago is a losing proposition. But other Rust Belt cities plugging into DC through Pittsburgh could work.
Which city would be the best middleman between Pittsburgh and Chicago? The Urbanophile might have a good suggestion.