Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Next Pittsburgh

Hamilton (Ontario) is hoping to pull off a Pittsburgh-like makeover. First up, promote yourself as family friendly. The eye is on Toronto refugees, people leaving the big city for various reasons. Ironically, that includes charter members of the creative class:

Now, the venerable Jamesville building is the latest target of a metamorphosis driven by a new wave of artistic entrepreneurs, and dreamers -- the creative class -- who believe Hamilton is the place to be.

"Toronto is already quite successful. And Toronto is full," said Martinus Geleynse, a 25-year-old local film producer and musician. "The beauty of Hamilton is that it's a frontier, it's a Wild West, and you can create your life here. And you can make money here."

The city has long suffered an artistic brain drain as Toronto siphoned off the cream of the creative class, he said. That now is changing as the trickle of artists, who have quietly been setting up shop in areas such as James North, threatens to become a flood.

"All the kids left here for the cool city," Geleynse said. "Now anybody can come here and be one of the cool kids.

"In Hamilton, there is a reason to get up every morning and contribute something." ...

... Hotel Hamilton is being managed by Jeremy Freiburger, executive director of the Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts.

"People are moving here (to Hamilton) from Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and they're moving here because rent is cheap, buying is cheap and this is a town where you can actually afford to experiment," he said.

"As an artist, you can make money, but you are not forced into the grind of overly commercialized activity all the time."

I don't know to what extent data might back up the claims. I see more and more evidence (albeit anecdotal) of migration away from the big global cities. Spiky World is getting flatter by the day, at least in the richest countries. Rust Belt Chic is ascendant.

The quintessential reverse migration is occurring in Japan, where a moribund economy is undermining traditions. It's also making dense city life a lot less attractive. Flat Worlders are discovering the splendor of the "slow-life":

Japan may not seem the logical choice for those seeking peace and tranquillity, but as the cities draw in the countryside's young and property prices fall, it is now the best place on earth to find your own rural paradise.

Oh, to be in Provence, that Jerusalem of slow living revealed by the gospel according to Peter Mayle. Shame, though, that property is now so exorbitant and burglary angst so pervasive; and that expat demands for broadband have left France Telecom staff so hyper-stressé. If not volatile, dysfunctional or unwelcoming, most other Edens are equally overpriced and crime-ridden. So where else could a slow-life pilgrim go? The last place one might guess is Japan. For as everyone knows it's an expensive sardine can encased end-to-end in concrete.

Granted, Japan's postwar "economic animals" tried their best, improvising with golf greens and tree farms where they couldn't subdue nature in concrete. But in six decades you can only pave so much of a mountainous archipelago that extends 2,500km. Now, with vast pockets of rural beauty still "unimproved", Japan's long march to "progress" is running out of steam. And, as aspiring slow-lifers are finding, it's creating some remarkable opportunities.

Apparently, slow-lifers are finding similar opportunities in places such as Hamilton and (according to Monocle) rural Germany. Saskia Sassen observed the rise of global cities and wrote about urban economies of agglomeration. I look at Pittsburgh (better yet, Youngstown) and see a new urban geography of globalization, one of arbitrage.

Rural villages and shrinking cities are the new frontier. This is the new talent migration. Chicago Poles are returning to the homeland in droves. These strange patterns are becoming more common, challenging Richard Florida's map of the world. Forget Toronto. Hamilton is where the cool kids are moving.


Mark Arsenal said...

Hmmm... The question is, is someone from Washington PA more likely to move to Charleroi or to Pittsburgh? Your post here suggest Charleroi to be the answer. I think you're over-generalizing migration patterns from anecdotal evidence here...

Jim Russell said...

More apropos would be where the Pittsburgh overflow would go:


Anonymous said...

Florida is, of course, a false prophet. He finds cause when at best there is only correlation.
He has managed to pull wool over eyes around the world.
Want proof? look at his stats - He includes teachers and healthcare workers in his creative class - although they are not attracted to a place by its vitality but by its number of children and sick people. It allows him to benefit statistically from the Baby Boom.
Artists go (a) to where people buy art (b) where they can live cheaply (c) and where other people go to sell art and live cheaply.
Creative workers go to places where they can get jobs.

Alon Levy said...

In Japan, Tokyo is still the fastest growing region (and nearly the only one that's growing).

Steve said...

I see more and more evidence (albeit anecdotal) of migration away from the big global cities.

I sort of see the same thing. To me it seems like more in the way of "potential migration" than actual migration so far. I can tell that lots of people would be more than happy to give up the "fast paced" life for something different. Of course, the right opportunity and circumstances have to show up, and so far that hasn't happened en masse yet.

I'm fairly certain it will happen. Some of the reasons why Silicon Valley happened where it did are now true for the rust belt, in Pittsburgh more than anyplace else.

And Toronto is full

Living in the DC area, there is the same feeling of things being "full". I have lived in other places in the Northeast Corridor (aka BosWash), and the same feeling exists there too. Where I live on the Virginia side of the DC area, things could be done to make it feel not so "full", and some of them are being done, but most of them won't. This means that there will come a time soon when people feeling the same "full" feeling will look for someplace else to live.

I look at Pittsburgh (better yet, Youngstown) and see a new urban geography of globalization, one of arbitrage.

I see the beginings of this too. I don't think it will be an all at once thing for the entire rust belt. I think Pittsburgh will be the first to benefit, but the parts of the rest of the rust belt will too later. Pittsburgh is in a bit of a unique position due to factors like having Carnigie-Mellow Univ. in the city. Other than a local system of venture capital Pittsburgh could become the "next Silicon Valley"/"Silicon Valley 2.0"/"Silicon Valley East" at least as far as that concept make sense. I think we will see something big start to happen in Pittsburgh soon.