Saturday, June 13, 2009

Great Lakes Globalization

An article in the London Free Press discusses the economic outlook for the Great Lakes. The water means a variety of things to different people and there are competing uses. As we re-imagine the Rust Belt, the utility of this mega-regional asset will be at the center of the debate about the way forward. Putting aside Chicago and Toronto, the Great Lakes represent the Rust Belt's primary opportunity for better global connectivity:

The Port of Cleveland has seen better days. So has shipping on the Great Lakes.

After the failure of many rust-belt industries that once relied on it for iron ore from the Lakehead, the port needs ship traffic. It developed the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame as a tourist attraction and explored container traffic, "heavy lifts" and cold storage. Attempts to start a ferry service to Port Stanley have stalled because the Ontario port is full of silt.

Cleveland also wants to redevelop its portlands, but traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes is at half its capacity.

This globalization infrastructure is in dire need of attention. The dramatic drop in traffic indicates how important global trade is to the Great Lakes. Any economic stimulus would be better applied to transportation logistics and better border connectivity than salvaging the ailing auto industry.

The turnaround of any shrinking city usual concerns a re-orientation of the downtown relative to the dominant waterway. I think someone from Pittsburgh described the latest renaissance as turning to face the rivers, instead of backing into them and dumping waste. You think that now is a strange time to embrace globalization, but the localism movement is (ironically) dependent upon better global integration.

1 comment:

Stephen Gross said...

Some random thoughts on cities, waterways, and infrastructure:

* You're right that investment dollars are best spent on improving existing--or creating new--infrastructure. In the long run, better roads/canals/rail lines/etc. translate into more efficient exchange of goods, which leads to long term trade growth. Unfortunately, the recent stimulus bill was focused as much on immediate stimulus as it was on investment. Citizens want to see results fast, to jump-start the economy. It's a difficult political battle.

* Pittsburgh's relationship with its waterways continues to evolve. In the early 19th century, the waterways were nature's interstates. The abundance of coal and easy access to the 3 rivers made Pittsburgh an easy winner in the urban evolution of the US. Waterways, however, are not ever again going to be interstates in that old way. Pittsburgh needs to prioritize making its waterfront--ALL of its waterfront--pedestrian accessible. There is some progress on this front, as there are plans for park development from the Strip to Lawrenceville. What will it take, though, to make 100% of Pittsburgh's riverbanks accessible?

* The environmental concerns of the great lakes must trump the trade concerns. In the long run, we need the great lakes to remain environmentally viable. How can we get shipping traffic to move from saltwater to freshwater safely? Who is working on this problem? How can we make it more economical?