Monday, December 05, 2011

Rise Of The Rust Belt Class

Economic development is a lot like improving public schools. Moving the needle a little bit in the right direction takes a lot of time. The rate of change is that of mesofacts. After decades of nice, comfortable water, suddenly the frog is boiled and ready to serve. Tastes like chicken. City Chicken.

But for some some reason, these lists never seem to quite mesh with reality. Financial Times writer Edwin Heathcote pointed out recently that many of the places that top the “most livable cities” lists are places no one really wants to live — it’s always (no offense, guys) Provo, Utah, and Ann Arbor, Mich., and Manchester, N.H. “What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No L.A. or H.K.?” asked Heathcote. To reduce a city to metrics “is to strip out all the complexity, all the friction and buzz that make big cities what they are.”

I want to double down on that passage and link on through to other side. From the pen of Heathcote:

In fact, Vancouver’s boringly consistent topping of the polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability”. The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope. Americans in particular seem to get wound up by the lack of US cities in the top tier. The one that does make it is Pittsburgh. Which winds them up even more.

The punch line about Pittsburgh could cut both ways. PGH is no HK. Neither is the Steel City an antiseptic Emerald City like Vancouver. Detroit is the anti-Portland. The Creative Class craves Rust Belt Chic. Now serving City Chicken. Why are you paying so much for the real stuff? The cheaper rip off tastes much better.

The Rust Belt is finally boiling. The rankings will eventually catch up. Jane Jacobs would choose Pittsburgh over Austin. Somewhere, outside boring Toronto, Richard Florida weeps.

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