Monday, October 18, 2010


That Detroit is looking to Pittsburgh instead of Chicago deserves to be repeated. Also, keep in mind my somewhat cryptic previous post. The Brookings Great Lakes megaregion is being split in two. To the west, there is Greater Chicagoland. To the east, you'll find something half-baked centered around a Detroit-Cleveland-Pittsburgh axis. Think of it as the liminal space between Chicago and New York.

I'm seeing the above urban troika turn up more frequently regarding Rust Belt revitalization. The German Marshall Fund is providing the framework for this emerging megaregion:

In 2010-2011, the Cities in Transition Initiative will focus on the challenges that arise from physical transformations occurring in a built environment that has been left behind by rapidly shifting settlement patterns. In cities in the United States’ Rust Belt and elsewhere, trends of decreasing population and suburbanization have sapped the vibrancy of many core city neighborhoods, leaving them vulnerable to blight and not dense enough to support a healthy civic life. Leipzig, Germany, which faced a similar population shift between ten and twenty years ago following the reunification of Germany, is well known for success of its targeted strategy of “shrinking in order to grow.” Participants in the first year of the Cities in Transition project will examine this strategy, other local practices and successful European policies closely in order to draw out and implement key elements that can contribute to addressing the complex challenges surrounding vacant properties and other land use issues in their own communities.

Participants in Year One programming will be selected from Flint, Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh with an emphasis on developing a strong, diverse group of political, business, non-profit, and philanthropic leaders with a high potential for effecting change. Additionally, recognizing that pioneering initiatives at the municipal/regional level must be complemented and supported by federal leadership, staff from relevant federal agencies will also be invited to participate.

The initiative will be guided through its three-year implementation period by a group of key stakeholders representing place-based foundations, civic organizations, policy organizations, and project funders with the goal of constructing a sustainable network of leaders from these cities in transition. Project activities will also be guided and coordinated by a senior fellow each year whose deep expertise and regional networks will contribute high-level policy analysis and help ensure that the lessons learned from European cities can be and are translated into innovative new policies in the participating U.S. Cities. In 2010-2011, the Cities in Transition Fellow is Lavea Brachman, Executive Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center.

I doubt Global Detroit, Global Cleveland, and Global Pittsburgh getting together is a coincidence. Furthermore, the upcoming election hinges on how voters in this megaregion swing:

The latest shift back toward Republicans is part of a 40-year oscillation in the old Rust Belt corridor stretching from West Virginia through western Pennsylvania, and into Ohio and Michigan. It is a region where you see a billboard saying "End the Marxist Occupation of Washington" on I-79 south of Erie, and where you hear embattled Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio bragging in radio ads that the National Rifle Association has endorsed him.

This might be America's heartland for brain drain anxiety. Border Guard Bob is patrolling a vast territory lately. I'm surprised at how well the geography hangs together. There seems to be an Eastern Great Lakes sensibility that is distinct from Richard Longworth's Midwest captured in his book, "Caught in the Middle".

Roughly, the Eastern Great Lakes is the area that defines itself as "Not Appalachia", a tension you can find in Michigan (e.g. Ypsitucky). The cities are a bit too far from Chicago, but separate from the East Coast thanks to the mountain range(s). Functionally, Pittsburgh acts as a liaison to America's largest megalopolis.

Keep an eye on this region. I expect to read and hear more about it in the near future. I'm looking forward to deepening connectivity between Pittsburgh and Detroit.


The Urbanophile said...

I haven't looked at Detroit in the "tech belt"/metals axis, but my recent migration analysis showed the same trend otherwise.

I think partially cities like Detroit know they'll never be the recipient of anything but contempt and snickers from Chicago, whereas others might see something more profitable in a relationship.

Jim Russell said...

I've seen maps that overlap the TechBelt metals axis with an automotive triangle. That makes sense in terms of Akron and Lordstown.

Your migration analysis is interesting. Delineating an eastern border for Chicago would be an interesting project to test conventional wisdom (e.g. East/West Michigan split).

Anonymous said...

One huge difference between Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland is that only Pittsburgh does not have a vast underclass. Though the outer areas surrounding the city--Braddock, Duquesne, Rankin, and Homestead do.
In fact there's so much concentrated poverty and social problems in Detroit and Cleveland they threaten the very future of these areas.

In order for these cities to come back a virtual Marshall Plan on poverty will have to be launched.

C. Briem said...

Not a critique of the anonymous commenter, but it is amazing anyone thinks they could make that statement.

Maybe the Pittsburgh underclass, as it were, is so concentrated it is not even known to the general public. I'll give you a few neighboroods to visit which will dispell the notion we are better than Detroit or Cleveland pretty quickly. And it is not just the Mon Valley communities you cite. Beyond parts of the city proper, lots of inner ring suburbs are suffering all the way around and out to say the Aliquippa's of the world.