Friday, October 26, 2007

Rust Belt Diaspora

The Economist is following with great interest the fits and starts of urban renewal in America's Industrial Heartland. Among the promising policy innovations listed is the regionalization of "north-east Ohio":

A more regional approach can benefit not only inner cities, but their surroundings as well. For decades cities and suburbs have competed for jobs, residents and state and federal aid to ill effect. To change this, the Fund for Economic Future, an alliance of foundations in north-east Ohio, worked with civic and business leaders from 16 counties to launch a regional scheme in March. The plan includes supporting companies that build on local strengths, such as Cleveland's universities and medical centres (the Cleveland Clinic is America's leading hospital for cardiac care), and improving workforce training for high-tech manufacturing, health care and other understaffed sectors.

The Fund is also exploring ways for the region's various governments (754 in all) to share revenue and rationalise services. Tax-sharing schemes have helped other struggling cities, including Dayton, Ohio and Rochester, New York. Cleveland and some surrounding towns have already agreed to split taxes from businesses that move within the area; in exchange, Cleveland is providing water services.

I'm not a fan of the regional solution for economic revitalization. The geographic understanding of an urban hinterland is, in this case, dated. I wouldn't stand against any attempt to pool resources at the regional level, but I think the benefits from such an initiative would be modest at best. Considering the inherent opposition to regionalization, I doubt the cost and effort necessary to succeed is worth it.

I prefer the Globalization and World Cities' redefinition of an urban hinterland, which is a city's relationship network as opposed to the classic understanding of an urban hierarchy as existing over a contiguous area. The hypothesis is that a city's connectivity with its urban peers is displacing the importance of the economic interdependence within a region. In this regard, regionalization fails to improve a city's place in the global economy. What it might do is begin to reverse the process of hollowing out the city center via suburbanization.

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