Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Raining On Pittsburgh's Parade

Joel Kotkin of New Geography offers a sensible critique of urban livability rankings. But he takes the "voting with your feet" metric too far when poking holes in The Economist's claim that Pittsburgh is America's most livable city:

In this sense, Pittsburgh represents the American model of the slow-growth European city. This may appeal to those doing quality-of-life rankings, but not to those who have been fleeing the Steel City for other places for generations. Immigrants are hardly coming in droves either – Pittsburgh ranks near last among major metropolitan areas in percentage of foreign-born residents. As longtime local columnist and resident Bill Steigerwald notes, since 1990 more Pittsburghers have been dying than being born. If this represents America's urban future, perhaps it's one that takes its inspiration from Alan Weisman's "A world without us."

The exodus from Pittsburgh is a tired libertarian refrain. Kotkin goes on to list "more dynamic places", all of which likely sport higher out-migration rates than Pittsburgh for at least a generation. I guess all those refugees don't care for the poor quality of life in New York and Los Angeles.

Fair enough to temper Pittsburgh boosterism, but there is no need to fabricate or misrepresent in order to make a point. Without immigration, a lot of American cities are aging and experiencing natural decline. They would look a lot like Pittsburgh, save that people are fleeing them at a higher rate.


JRoth said...

Anyone who's quoting Bill Steigerwald - especially regarding urban issues - trades in his credibility right off the bat.

As informed observers know, Pittsburgh has net in-migration among the living; it's the dying-off of the last of the millworkers that's draining the census count.

Jim Russell said...

I usually appreciate what Joel has to say. And, I like this particular piece overall. But I'm with you on Steigerwald. Kotkin links to one of Steigerwald's New Geography rants. It has more of the exodus nonsense and even offers a few things that are flat out false.

You needn't make anything up to find something wrong with Pittsburgh.

JRoth said...

Kotkin is thoughtful, but he's a bit like Florida, in that every subject must conform to his thesis; changing his thesis in response to facts is unthinkable.