Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Great Divergence Within New York City

In the United States, perhaps around the world, New York stands atop the urban hierarchy. Whichever city you slot in second place, it seems to be almost an order of magnitude behind. Without a doubt, NYC is on the right side of Enrico Moretti's new geography of jobs:

The divergence of Menlo Park and Visalia is not an isolated case. It reflects a broader national trend. America’s new economic map shows growing differences, not just between people but between communities. A handful of cities with the “right” industries and a solid base of human capital keep attracting good employers and offering high wages, while those at the other extreme, cities with the “wrong” industries and a limited human capital base, are stuck with dead-end jobs and low average wages. This divide—I will call it the Great Divergence—has its origins in the 1980s, when American cities started to be increasingly defined by their residents’ levels of education. Cities with many college-educated workers started attracting even more, and cities with a less educated workforce started losing ground. While in 1969 Visalia did have a small professional middle class, today its residents, especially those who moved there recently, are overwhelmingly unskilled. Menlo Park had many low-income families in 1969, but today most of its new residents have a college degree or a master’s degree and a middle- to upper-class income. Geographically, American workers are increasingly sorting along educational lines. At the same time that American communities are desegregating racially, they are becoming more segregated in terms of schooling and earnings.

Emphasis added. Brains are agglomerating in certain parts of the country. But what about within a metro? A Bronx tale:

The Bronx’s inability to catch up with the rest of the city’s phenomenal economic growth has been disconcerting. In the early 1970s, the Bronx and Brooklyn had similar average household incomes. Since then, though, the gap has grown significantly. The average Brooklyn resident is now around 23 percent richer than the average Bronxite; people in Queens are roughly 32 percent richer. (Manhattan residents are 265 percent wealthier; Staten Island residents, by the way, are 55 percent richer.) What happened?

Read Moretti's book to find out what happened. Rust Belt cities diverged from Creative Class cities. As the above NYT article explains, New York is a microcosm of the national trend. The Bronx is comparable, perhaps favorably so, to Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis. How might the Bronx revitalize, too? Pull a Pittsburgh:

So perhaps the Bronx shouldn’t try to become a more affordable Greenwich Village (like parts of Brooklyn) or an enclave of the young, hip and ambitious (like parts of Queens). For economic inspiration, Katz suggests, the Bronx should look outside New York. Pittsburgh lost its steel industry, but the city — home to Carnegie Mellon, Pitt and other research institutions — redefined itself as a solid second-tier educational and research center. The Bronx, Katz says, is also strong in the highly coveted “eds and meds” sector. “It boggles the mind,” he says, how much hospitals and universities spend. As a result, they offer extensive potentially valuable service jobs without degree requirements.

Emphasis added. Even within Brooklyn and Queens, there is a great divergence. Vitality changes dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood. The urban geography of globalization is hyperlocal. Global cities harbor great income disparity, where nurture trumps nature. Your genetic disposition matters less.

What that means is that there are parts of Pittsburgh that are better connected to Manhattan than the entirety of the Bronx. The next New York neighborhood to gentrify isn't in the Bronx. It's the South Side Slopes of Pittsburgh.


Anonymous said...

There's no doubt that Pgh is a couple tears below NYC on most things, but wouldn't Pittsburgh be considered a close to top tier educational and research center. I realize that NYC, Philly, Boston and others have more institutions, but when it comes to research, doesn't CMU and Pitt more than hold their own? Does NYC have a university that does as much in technology?


Jim Russell said...


Certainly Pitt and CMU are world class research institutions. Those two urban campuses provide Pittsburgh with a huge advantage concerning the Great Divergence. But it is a long way to catch up to the likes of Philadelphia. Forget New York City. It's in a unique urban class with London. I'm trying to highlight the connectivity with NYC as a boon for Pittsburgh. Few cities can boast such strong talent links with New York and DC. There's a proximity dividend that ironically skips over the Bronx.