Sunday, October 11, 2009

Political Legacy Costs

After an uninspiring tour of this morning's news, I intended to take a Sunday off from blogging. Then Chris Briem posted this. He links to a great article in the Las Vegas Sun. It is another What-Pittsburgh-Can-Teach-The-World piece. If you have had your fill of Burghophilia, then you'll want to skip this one.

I enjoyed reading the city comparison (Las Vegas, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, and Pittsburgh) for two reasons. First, Angie Schmitt of Rust Wire is quoted extensively. She's the main source for describing Cleveland's malaise. I love seeing a member of the Rust Belt Vanguard getting some serious ink. Second, there is a treasure trove of nuggets that synthesize almost every theme I've explored in this blog. I'm having a hard time picking just one to highlight. I'll settle for the bit about frontier geographies since it might help further my exchange with Aaron Renn:

Experts say cities that thrive are those with a clean political system and a civic culture that encourages cooperation and giving back. (Chicago is an obvious exception, though for what it lacks in the former, it makes up for in the latter.)

The paragraph after that one will make most Pittsburghers cringe. But political corruption in the city is relatively benign. I don't intend to dismiss the criticism as unwarranted, but all the griping lacks a proper comparative context. Take a closer look at Cleveland, for example.

An instructive contrast that will help to illuminate the above quoted passage is Youngstown and Girard, two neighbors in the Mahoning Valley. The tension between the two cities concerned the expansion of the V&M Star steel pipe production plant. I won't bore you with the details of that deal. Suffice to say that Girard Mayor James Melfi made quite the spectacle of himself in what amounts to a petty turf war. I am surprised to see the Youngstown Vindicator dance lightly around Melfi's tantrum:

When Vallourec and Mannesmann Tubes of suburban Paris, France, announced that it wants to build a state-of-the-art steel-making facility adjacent to its Youngstown-based V&M Star Steel plant, it became clear that land in Girard would be needed. The transfer of land in and of itself was a major point of contention in the negotiations, but the talks took on a definite negative tone after Girard Mayor James Melfi found out that the amount of land wasn’t the 80 acres Youngstown officials had discussed from the beginning, but 191 acres.

Reporters had long used the 80-acre figure, and no attempt was made to correct the record.

Youngstown officials contended that the 191 acres were clearly identified on the maps that were used during the first presentation of the project. However, Melfi claims he did not find out the true acreage until a couple of months ago.

I'm still rolling my eyes. Melfi represents the kind of politics that the article in the Las Vegas Sun contends undermines economic development. On the other hand, the leadership in Youngstown should be a model for the "clean" approach. The civic cooperation is outstanding. But one bad apple (Melfi) can spoil the entire Mahoning Valley barrel. There is still substantial regional inertia to overcome.

Regardless, I see Youngstown as the engine to pull the entire area out of the doldrums. The revitalization of the city core is already apparent, even to the Economist. Frustrated with corruption in Detroit and Cleveland? Move to Youngstown.

One other thing about the article ... Look at the data for all the cities. Boston and Pittsburgh are statistical equals for the percentage of population with a college degree. That's the Pittsburgh Paradox. More on that in a forthcoming post.


jpcoolican said...

i'd like to correspond. send me an email.

Unknown said...

Everything in context, I guess. Fascinating to have a story like this without a peep on the G20. Being from Detroit, myself, and still with family, there, it does help keep Pittsburgh in a perspective that native locals might not so easily "get."

Janko said...

"but the Medical Mart seems a plausible idea for Las Vegas, especially now that the Cleveland Clinic has opened a subsidiary in the city."

look out.