Friday, August 27, 2010

Rust Belt Atlanta

The Great Recession informed a global transformation. The country grappling with the biggest changes is the United States. Yet the economic geography is supposed to look like it did for the last two decades, with the gap between the winners and losers growing wider. A few brave souls are hazarding a guess that cuts across the grain. Chief among the new losers is Atlanta:

OUR paradigm for a dying city is Detroit. People built cars there. They also designed cars, made parts for cars, advertised cars and collected scrap left over from the manufacture of cars. That is largely gone, and the city is a shadow of what it was. You could say the same thing about almost any manufacturing-based, rust-belt city: Flint, Buffalo, Erie, Youngstown, Cleveland. I wonder whether this recession may not do something similar, albeit on a smaller scale, to some of the service-based cities whose population boomed in the past 20 or 30 years (nb: when I say "I wonder" here I don't mean it as a pointless puff on my pondering pipe; I mean I actually do wonder, and this is more an unformed thought than a prediction). Like, for instance, my fair city of Atlanta. ...

... All of which makes me wonder whether Atlanta is simply approaching a point beyond which it cannot efficiently grow. And it makes me wonder, too, at what point we will be able to say the same thing about, say, Phoenix, Charlotte, Las Vegas and other late-century boomtowns.

The golden era of the listed dying cities was the early 20th century. The decline was noticeable in the wake of World War II. But the Rust Belt wasn't the Rust Belt until the 70s and 80s. The Great Recession for many manufacturing regions was the double whammy of the early 1980s, which spawned (salmon, of course) the Burgh Diaspora.

Consumption and real estate, along with the means to mitigate the climatic challenges, underwrote rise of the Sun Belt. I like to think of it as a migration economy. Stop the flow of people and the house of credit cards collapses. Geography is back with a vengeance. Time to embrace your inner Rust Belt refugee.

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