Friday, December 16, 2011

The Cities Of Rural Iowa

Apparently, Iowa is part of Appalachia. I'm not referring to hillbilly migration. Iowa has no real cities. From New Geography:

Expectedly, Bloom’s portrayal of Iowans hasn’t exactly had a warm reception. On Tuesday, the Daily Iowan’s front page had perhaps the most outrageous quote that Bloom’s article included, labeling rural Iowans as nothing more than “the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated [sic]) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun'll come out tomorrow.’”

Yesterday, Sally Mason, the president of the University of Iowa, sent out a campus-wide letter reminding the students that she “disagrees strongly with and was offended by Professor Bloom’s portrayal of Iowa and Iowans”. She reminds us of the generosity that Iowans famously possess and of our “pragmatic and balanced” lifestyles. She also goes on to speak about Dubuque’s recent revitalization, the kinds of companies Iowa has attracted (namely Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids and Google in Council Bluffs), and the fact that Iowa City, at times called the “Athens of the Midwest”, is designated as the only “City of Literature” in the United States. It seems like Bloom forgot to take any of this into account.

He even goes so far as to berate and categorize Iowa’s Mississippi River cities as “some of the skuzziest cities” that he’s ever visited. Cities such as Burlington, Keokuk, Muscatine, and Davenport all seem to be more degraded, violent, and worse-off than some of the cities he’s used to having seen growing up in New Jersey, a place with cities that are labeled time and time again for their overall “skuzziness.” Has he ever driven to Newark?

Emphasis added. I do love place smack. Pop geographic abstractions are caricatures. Iowa is "rural", which means not "cosmopolitan". Newark is urban and dangerous. Has the New Geography author been to Newark lately? The rebound:

Newark’s problems extend beyond people fleeing its borders, and it could be decades before it’s known if the 2010 Census was a turning point. But stanching the bleeding provides hope. The city is attracting immigrants, has seen new public and private investment in development and may be benefiting from renewed interest in city living.

"What you are seeing is a common pattern in certain metropolitan areas — those that host a diverse urban economy and are well-positioned in the global economy," said Douglas Massey, director of the office of population research at Princeton University. "Newark has the distinct advantage of being in the New York metropolitan area, and much of its comparative advantage stems from that fact, and from the fact that land and housing are relatively cheap and Newark is an easy commute into Manhattan."

Massey said similar growth is taking place in cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh and Boston, while metro areas like Buffalo, Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio, more concentrated on single industries, have languished.

Camden would have been a more biting rejoinder to Professor Bloom's sweeping dismal of rural and urban Iowa. Iowa is poor. Brain drain is acute. No one would want to live there.

All of the above is nothing more than sticks and stones until you consider the migration angle. Would you move to Professor Bloom's Iowa? I wouldn't. When it comes to relocation decisions, reputation matters more than metrics, mesofacts ├╝ber alles. Keep that in mind if you are trying to engineer migration to your shrinking city or dying county.

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