Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Great Recession Geography: Great Lakes Region

Check out the great conversation about megaregions going on over at The Urbanophile. (Here and here) I'll chip in using one of the latest reports to come out of Brookings about the economic recovery in the United States. The Great Lakes megaregion receives a more granular analysis:

This second edition of the Great Lakes Monitor helps provide a more fine-grained look at how local economic structure and housing dynamics have led to varied performance across the Great Lakes during the recession. It illustrates that, although the older industrial metros in the region have for decades shared in the struggle to retool their economies, the economic and housing crisis has set some communities— particularly those in Ohio and Michigan—further back in this process than others. By more precisely describing the varied “stories within the story,” it shows where and how policy makers and regional stakeholders need to focus their energies to help ensure that recovery comes—if slowly—to all parts of the country.

The recovery varies by location. That's as true in the Rust Belt as it is throughout the United States. However, this megaregion makes intuitive sense. We could quibble over the exact boundaries. But most people have a clear image of a "Rust Belt city". The Great Lakes definition from Brookings is as good as any out there.

I see three distinct Rust Belts within the Great Lakes megaregion. These sub-megaregions appear concerning a variety of metrics, from immigration to economic recovery. Cultural heritage also reveals some stark delineations. As I'm fond of writing, Youngstown is on the wrong side of the OH-PA border. The proof? Cookie tables.

I don't mention this notable wedding tradition for whimsical purposes. It's important for understanding that the division between two of the Rust Belt sub-megaregions is somewhere between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. As you head southeast on I-76 from Akron (Ohio) the Midwestern influence is increasingly vague. Once in Youngstown, you might as well be in the heart of Appalachia as far as a Cleveland native is concerned.

That's how megaregions get so big as to defeat the economic coherence and utility of a contiguous geography. Locally, Cleveland and Pittsburgh aren't so far apart. Megaregionally, they are two different worlds.

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