Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Pittsburgh is taking over the Rust Belt (and the Sun Belt). Next up? Chicago:

In its quest to become a leading world city, Chicago may have relinquished power within its region. The City of Big Shoulders could continue to shrink if the Steel City successfully rebuilds its job market and reverses its population decline.

Before you dismiss this as a joke, do check out the referenced post. It is full of interesting data. What sticks out to me:

Metropolitan areaGMP in US$ billions (2010)
St. Louis

Chicago's economy is almost 5 times bigger than Pittsburgh's. Chicago is on a different planet. The slowing horse egging Pittsburgh on is Detroit. The Eastern Rust Belt is in need of an anchor.

Whatever was beyond the pale of Chicagoland used to belong to Detroit, the Rust Belt's Second City. In many ways (particularly in terms of migration) Detroit was Chicago's equal. Detroit was a great and global city.

Detroit remains an economic power, perhaps in spite of itself. Most telling is the decline (i.e. transformation) of immigration:

Metro Detroit is no longer the immigration gateway it once was, according to a report released last week by the nonprofit Brookings Institution, but the region remains home to one of the nation's highest concentrations of high-skilled immigrants.

Regarding immigration, Detroit is looking a lot more like Pittsburgh. That is to say, it is following instead of leading. Detroit is trying to catch up to Pittsburgh. The larger economy in terms of GMP is largely symbolic. Pittsburgh is already the center of gravity for the Eastern Rust Belt.


Anonymous said...

Yes, but isn't Minneapolis the true Midwestern Second City? If the criteria is purely rust belt, then Detroit would 2nd (one could argue 1st, with Chicago, not being like the others)


Jim Russell said...

I consider Minneapolis to be part of the Rust Belt, embracing Richard Longworth's Midwestern region. But I also include areas east of the OH-PA state line.

At minimum, there are two Rust Belts: East and West. I won't get into what is Midwestern because I think that muddles the regional abstraction. Chicago, with all due respect to Minneapolis and St. Louis, is king of the Western Rust Belt.

Detroit, with all due respect to Cleveland and Pittsburgh (and Louisville?), was king of the Eastern Rust Belt. The problem is that Detroit didn't reinvent itself like Chicago did.

For all the concern in Chicago about a fall from grace, the city would do well to look at Detroit.

Anonymous said...

As a Detroiter (broadly defined) I actually take solace from watching Pittsburgh, and I see more and more metro Detroiters looking at Pittsburgh as a model. I think we're on the same trajectory as Pittsburgh, just 25 or so years behind in the cycle, since steel peaked and collapsed about 25 years before the Big 3. Pittsburgh has had a head start in terms of being forced to diversify. (Likewise, I see Boston as a model/predecessor for Pittsburgh -- starting when the textile mills began to move south in the 1920s, it went through a long economic decline and had to diversify.)

I hope it doesn't take us another 20 years to get to where Pittsburgh is now -- but it wouldn't surprise me. It will depend on a few things: A) whether voters around here start to demand more regional cooperation, B) how quickly our median education levels start to improve, and C) how much progress Wayne State University can make in terms of research and academic rankings. Right now Detroit lacks the strong research universities Pittsburgh has, & I think it's important we work to address that. (Or maybe it doesn't matter and I'm just drinking the Kool-Aid of 2011 conventional wisdom... always a possibility).

Paul Wittibschlager said...

Don't waste your energy arguing over which rust belt city is first, second or third. If this is a contest about economic output, jobs, employment growth, or population...then just move to Dallas, Phoenix, or San Diego and you can personally adopt a city that will easily beat any of the ones in the Midwest. Even Chicago is bleeding jobs and population.

This should be a contest about quality of life issues. Which rust belt city is doing the best at sustainability? The best at land conservation? The best at regional planning? Now that's a contest the rust belt SHOULD be working to win.