Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Shrinking Cities Network

How do former industrial cities successfully transition to the knowledge economy? As a geographer would tell you, what works in one place doesn't necessarily travel all that well:

[Max] Grinnell, a 31-year-old Madison native who is getting his Ph.D. in geography, spent four months at the University of Sheffield in England in 2004 as part of a [Worldwide Universities Network] program to do research on regional development issues in Great Britain. He continues to have contact with professors and students at Sheffield.

“I was looking at the roles of the University of Sheffield and other institutions and policy groups involved in the transformation of regional economies. I was looking at the region saying ‘What can be done?’ It's like restructuring in the States, how to make Pittsburgh into a Silicon Valley,” Grinnell said.

You take older industrial regions and say what is next besides having people on welfare? How do we use existing institutions and look at new partnerships?

He found that not every region can become a high-tech information center, and that too few people in the Sheffield area had the higher education needed for such a transformation.

Ideas about using higher education institutions to transform a region are disseminated at international conferences and urban development forums, but that ignores local knowledge and practices, Grinnell said. You can't do boilerplate plans that work thousands of miles away.

I'm more interested in common attributes of shrinking cities and figuring out to what extent Pittsburgh could learn from other cities that share a similar industrial past. I don't think you can turn Pittsburgh into Silicon Valley because there isn't the rural blank slate in any city. Developing Pittsburgh is particularly difficult in that regard. I'm curious to know if Mr. Grinnell has encountered a case of an old industrial city transforming into something like a Silicon Valley.

Regardless, Mr. Grinnell's research (along with that of the University of Sheffield and Worldwide Universities Network) should prove useful to the shrinking cities club. I would like to find out if other cities have diaspora populations like Pittsburgh does. My hypothesis is that there is no better city diaspora to network than the one associated with Pittsburgh and that the Burgh Diaspora project would not fare as well in another location.

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