"Pittsburgh, PA, will become the next hipster haven." Why? Click on the link:
With its affordable housing, thriving student population, emerging arts and hip-hop scene, and fast-growing job market, Pittsburgh is quickly becoming the newest hipster haven.
Emphasis added. I started blogging about Pittsburgh and brain drain six years ago. At the time, I couldn't have imagined that I would live to read such a claim about my favorite dying Rust Belt city. Fast-growing job market?
Indeed, Pittsburgh's rapid transformation over the lifespan of my blog is staggering. Unbelievable. Which brings me to a sensational claim I made to a writer for Salon:
“I’ve been saying to people in Pittsburgh for years, ‘What Seattle was in the ’90s, you’re going to be that big.’ And they’d laugh. But the data show it,” says Russell. “The editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette keeps saying the biggest problem in Pittsburgh is brain drain. And I’m like, you’re 20 years too late. Why are you torpedoing your own in-migration? When you’re running around saying you have a brain drain problem, what you’re saying to the world is, ‘We’re a loser.’ But if you can convince people the data are true as opposed to the mesofacts, then you open the sluicegates.”
Consider the sluice gates wide open. Don't pay attention to the nonsense warning about the population numbers coming from the Praxis Strategy Group. This turnaround doesn't deserve an asterisk. Yesterday's decline isn't a good predictor of the future.
Seattle is a great analogy for Pittsburgh. In "The New Geography of Jobs", Enrico Moretti traces the divergence of Seattle and Albuquerque. From the book:
Today most people think of Seattle as one of the most pleasant cities in America, weather aside. But when Microsoft moved there in the late 1970s, the crime rate was significantly higher than Albuquerque and there were 50 percent more robberies per capita. The quality of Seattle schools was mixed, museums were run-down, and the culinary scene, now so interesting and eclectic, was unremarkable. ...
... Just a few years earlier, The Economist had labeled Seattle the "city of despair." In an article on the alarming decline of the local economy, its correspondent reported that "the country's best buys in used cars, in secondhand television sets, in houses, are to be found in Seattle, Washington. The city has become a vast pawnshop, with families selling anything they can do without to get money to buy food and pay the rent." Expectations about the future were so low that a giant billboard appeared near the airport saying, "Will the last person leaving SEATTLE - Turn out the lights."
Fast-forward to 1989:
Pity Seattle? Or pity Pine Bluff, Ark.? The new edition of Places Rated Almanac lists Seattle as the most livable city in America, No. 1 out of 333 American metropolitan areas surveyed. Pine Bluff is No. 333, after ranking third from the bottom in 1981 and second from last in 1985.
Seattle folk are not so sure that being No. 1 is all that terrific. The city has been touted in a number of surveys in recent years as a wonderful place to live. Thousands of people have been flocking there, more than a few of them from California. Now, Seattle has slow-growth groups trying to control congestion and development and discourage more newcomers.
Seattle went from city of despair to most livable in about a decade. Of course, Microsoft had a lot (if not everything) to do with that. Microsoft moved from Albuquerque to Seattle because the founders of the company (Bill Gates and Paul Allen) grew up there. Seattle's subsequent boom was dumb luck.
Pittsburgh's boom is anything but. There isn't a Microsoft underwriting the dramatic change in fortune. The demographic devastation of the 1980s has taken decades to unwind. It's still unwinding. Despite the strong headwinds, the regional economy started to pick up steam about 5-years ago and powered (relatively speaking) through the recession. I suspect the handwriting was on the wall when Whole Foods opened (2002) in East Liberty. That makes today's "hipster haven" headline a 10-year journey out of a Seattle-like darkness. Rust Belt Chic is the new grunge.