Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Small City Boom

Outside Erie made another attempt to generate some conversation around the PolicyLink report about smaller industrial cities. Reading a reaction in a Schenectady, NY newspaper, I'm reminded of my ample experience in this kind of urban environment:
Staff at PolicyLink decided to focus on small cities because they have different needs from larger cities, and often get lost in the shuffle. Radhika Fox, who co-authored the report with [Albany resident and Metroland columnist Miriam Axel-Lute], said she was looking at ways to expand economic opportunities in large cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia, when she began getting requests for assistance from smaller cities such as Youngstown, Ohio, and Kalamazoo, Mich. “I realized that some of the most exciting urban revitalization was happening in smaller cities, but it was not part of the national conversation,” she said.
I spent all of my childhood in a suburb of three smaller industrial cities: Erie, Schenectady, and Burlington, VT. My father was an engineer at General Electric and tended to stay a half step ahead of each city's economic collapse until we landed in Burlington, where he retired in the wake of GE selling off operations there. And like Radhika Fox, I discovered Youngstown while looking at the issues facing Pittsburgh. In a sense, blogging about the doings in Youngstown is more akin to getting back to my roots than returning to Western Pennsylvania to champion Pittsburgh.

The small cities diaspora located in the hinterlands of Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and perhaps NYC or Boston, comprise the landscape of my childhood. It is a large swath of territory that is a coherent region in my mind. Being interested in more places than just my hometown is part of my disposition. However, I sense I'm not the only one with such a perspective. Anyone from one of these secondary industrial centers is caught between at least two places thanks to the position of their hometown in the urban hierarchy. Reading the report re-emphasizes the fact that we have much in common and should work together.

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