Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pittsburgh: Model Of Success

If I read nothing but Pittsburgh blogs and publications, then I would be missing a great success story. At least, there must be some truth to the celebration of Pittsburgh's transformation. Louisville and Lexington (Kentucky) are the latest cities studying the model:

In visiting Pittsburgh, the group will examine advances the city has made in education, tax policy, talent attraction, civic amenities, community branding and entrepreneurship. Pittsburgh was recently named the No. 1 Most Livable City in America, and has harnessed the power its affordable standard of living and world-class facilities to become a leader in the technology, research, and robotics industries. Pittsburgh is home to more than 100 global companies.

The "Most Livable City" designation is not a big deal. But the laundry list of categories that merit attention from other regions is something to consider. No one is making Louisville and Lexington go to Pittsburgh. Why do these communities think they can learn something about talent attraction from one of America's most prominent shrinking cities?

Again, the obsession with the population numbers is absurd. Many successful global cities (e.g. Chicago) are domestic migration losers. Thanks to immigration, we don't hear about how these places are failing. That an increase in immigration to Pittsburgh would dramatically change the image of how Pittsburgh is doing demonstrates the folly of the population hype.

Inner London is on course to have by 2030 the lowest proportion of over 65-year-olds of any region in the European Union, say official projections.

The UK capital will largely escape the EU’s ageing population trends, according to a report by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office, and will take over from Flevoland, part of the Netherlands, as the region with the fewest pensioners.

In contrast, Germany faces increasing strains on its welfare system as eastern regions of the country see the proportion of over 65s rising to almost 40 per cent over the next two decades.

The trends highlight the effects of London’s above-average birth rate and of international migration patterns – as well as its appeal to younger people. By 2030, almost a fifth of the population of Flevoland, built on reclaimed land north of Amsterdam, will be older than 65. But in the same year, just 10.4 per cent of the population of inner London will be over that age.

“Large metropolitan areas tend to be younger: living in very big cities is expensive, it’s something young people do at the start of their career. Cities are also attractive to students,” said Ralf Jacob, a demographics expert at the European Commission “Older people, who are retired, no longer have to live close to job-rich urban areas.”

Alpha global cities export the older demographic cohorts. It becomes another region's problem. Aging Germany isn't a result of bad urban policy. And the boom in Florida wasn't the result of smart urban or state policies.

A team of urban experts, as part of a routine exercise in 1974, forecast the size of the world’s most populous cities in 2000. Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, would grow to 9 million, more than London today. Pakistan’s Karachi would expand to 16 million, almost as large as New York City. The forecasts were way off (see fi gure 7.1). Kinshasa’s population is about half of London’s today, Karachi’s about half of New York City’s. Why were the experts, generally good at forecasting national populations, so wrong in predicting city sizes?

London was one of the cities the experts grossly underestimated the population growth. They didn't foresee the global economic forces that would make the city such a hot destination for talent. In other words, London got lucky. As for Pittsburgh, suffice to say that the city was extremely unlucky.

The numerous benefits of immigration amount to smoke and mirrors concerning urban health. We've already seen the migration mirage that was Las Vegas and Phoenix. Pittsburgh has made its gains without the windfall of either, making the increasing concentration of talent located there all the more remarkable. That's why so many other cities see it as a model of successful urban policy.


Mark Arsenal said...

Just a side note: any study of global city populations or markets need to be based on something other than municipal governmental territories. Cities around the world do not have the same incorporation abilities.

Even if Kinshasa were to have exceeded London's population, without a sidebar about annexation limits in the respective cities.

This is one reason I never pay attention to population figures by themselves. I tend to ignore population stats unless I see qualifiers like "metro area" or "market".

Of course, even these get messed up when we start looking at border areas (eg, San Diego, El Paso)...

Jim Russell said...

I didn't see any evidence of an apples-to-oranges problem in the World Bank report. Regardless, the experts didn't expect London to boom as it did. The comparison isn't London-to-Kinshasa. It is 1974London-to-2000London.