Saturday, March 28, 2009

Can Japan Save Pittsburgh?

While Jero continues to subtly connect the Burgh and Tokyo, the farm communities of Japan tell (more acutely) the tale of Rust Belt demographics:

To hear many farmers and agricultural experts tell it, rural Japan is fast approaching some sort of dead end, the result of depopulation, trade liberalization and depleted government coffers. They speak of the worst rural crisis since World War II. In Shonai, farmland prices have dropped as much as 70 percent in the past 15 years, and the number of farmers has shrunk by half since 1990.

The analogy might be more appropriate for shrinking cities that globalization will likely finish off. However, there are parts of the Pittsburgh region (e.g. Mon Valley) that fit the above description of rural Japan. Most of the Rust Belt will never benefit from the current economic geography.

Particularly in Japan, urban density rules. But the rural regions stubbornly hold onto the past as a last refuge. Ironically, this speeds up the community irrelevance. Towns and small cities grow increasingly isolated while the overall population rapidly ages. Better connectivity to the urban economic engines might help, but any sort of revival is unlikely. Geographic triage seems to be the only viable policy.

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