Friday, February 03, 2012

Rust Belt San Diego

Like Rochester and Pittsburgh, San Diego was dying. This group of three might strike you as strange bedfellows. But the pattern of economic implosion and revitalization are similar:

After years of decline, Eastman Kodak, once the largest employer in Rochester, filed for bankruptcy protection last month. But rather than following Detroit, Cleveland and other once-bustling industrial cities into decay, Rochester continues to grow at a healthy clip. Why?

The question goes beyond the city limits of what was once called “Snapshot City.” Why does Pittsburgh prosper while Detroit sputters? How did San Diego make the transition from a Navy town to a diversified economic success while Fresno, Calif., has one of the country’s highest home foreclosure rates?

That's the tale of two Rust Belts. There isn't a large swath of the industrial moribund. There isn't even a contiguous region that lends itself to a convenient abstraction. In one cohort, we have metros who have made the transition from one economic epoch to the next. In the other, we have metros still struggling to transform.

To say Rochester is dying (or dead) is to say San Diego is dying. There's too much in the way of poor analysis masquerading as definitive economic geography. Contrasting San Diego with Fresno is telling. Both cities have a growing population. They are both living cities, right? Wrong. "Rust Belt" is shorthand for demographic decline, not economic decline. Unfortunately, the two get conflated.

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