Monday, December 17, 2007

Lake Erie 2.0

Outside Erie is both wary and intrigued concerning the benefits of Rust Belt cities "pooling their resources" for purposes of economic development. Might smaller cities such as "Erie, Youngstown, and Jamestown" get lost in the shuffle?

The boundaries of any regional initiative are difficult to draw. We could split Youngstown in two between the pull of Pittsburgh and Cleveland. I would argue that is why Cleveburgh makes sense and respective efforts for each big city does not. On the other hand, I'm not sure that a Buffalo-Birmingham collaboration is worth the investment. There is a great deal of value in tapping into a strong cultural coherence, which is the lesson informing the networking of the Burgh Diaspora or the success of Globalscot.

Where there is shared interest, there is trust. Where there is trust, there is economic value. Erie has much in common with other Great Lakes cities. Erie also sits on the same shoreline as Toledo, Cleveland, and Buffalo. The large bodies of water serve as a political, cultural and economic touchstone for the future of a large region:

One of America’s top shoreline experts, Duke University’s Orrin Pilkey, told me last year he’s stunned by the Great Lakes region’s lack of beach access.

Same goes for the nation’s oldest think tank, the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

A $200,000 study Brookings released in 2006, funded by major businesses, universities, and philanthropic groups, said the region will re-emerge as an economic powerhouse only if it rallies around the Great Lakes. It suggested becoming more appealing to “outdoor enthusiasts, history buffs, and those seeking health lifestyles.”

I believe in private property rights. I respect some zoning laws, disdain others, and believe in the freedom to do as I please with the turf I own, within reason and without excessive government intrusion.

But the formula’s simple: If you can see the water and touch the water, you’re more likely to protect the water.

What is news in Buffalo is news in Erie, a collaboration waiting to happen. Pittsburgh can boast a similar connectivity, the rivers of northern Appalachia. The Appalachian Regional Commission takes a more expansive view of the region, and you might be surprised to see that Erie makes the cut. But the shared waterways are more useful for informing a strong partnership.

Just the same, Cleveburgh is a work in progress. We can build on that connectivity as a model for new urban networks. I'm not sure what Pittsburgh's stake is in the Great Lakes or Lake Erie, but that doesn't mean there isn't a shared interest. What is good for Erie can be good for Pittsburgh. Let's explore those possibilities.

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