Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pittsburgh Connectivity

I draw your attention to a Chris Briem (Null Space) post about Cleveburgh airports. The issue is connectivity with Europe. Status symbol or economic necessity? I'll use Charlotte versus Cincinnati to make the latter case:

Chiquita’s move to the Southeast is not simply about better weather in the North Carolina. Other economic factors in Cincinnati played into the company’s decision. Delta Airlines has greatly scaled back its flights in and out of Cincinnati, as it was once a major hub for the company. Travel to international locations and the West Coast became harder without access to direct flights. Charlotte, however, is the busiest hub for U.S. Airways, making it a prime location for a major operation like Chiquita.

So, Cleveland and Pittsburgh should subsidize flights to Europe in order to retain and attract corporations. I appreciate the value of direct flight options. I'm not convinced that supporting nonstop to Paris is a good idea. Cleveburgh needs to update its understanding of economic geography.

Pittsburgh has some surprising connectivity strengths. Number one is the link with DC:

Current federal rules will force JetBlue to use the slots it won at auction "for destinations within 1,500 miles of LaGuardia and 1,250 miles of Reagan," according to the Wall Street Journal. That's silly. America should—as Matthew Yglesias, a blogger, has argued—"let airports be airports." You could—and, I think, should, if it actually existed—take high-speed rail between Washington and New York, Washington and Pittsburgh, or Washington and Boston. But building a high-speed rail link between Washington and Los Angeles wouldn't be a very good use of resources, and taking a train between those two cities would take far longer than flying.

Emphasis added. I was curious about the inclusion of Pittsburgh in the discussion. The Yglesias post provides the answer:

The DC metro area, for example, is served by three airports. One of them, DCA, is much more centrally located than the other two but it’s also smaller and because it’s centrally located it can’t really be expanded. That airport features six daily flights to Pittsburgh, 245 miles away. There are also four flights per day from Dulles, and three flights per day from BWI. Clearly, there’s a lot of demand for going to Pittsburgh. Were there a high-quality DC-Pittsburg rail connection, many of these air trips would instead be done by train.

Emphasis added. I'm well aware of the substantial churn between Pittsburgh and DC. But the demand is greater than I expected. Pittsburgh is well connected to Washington. That makes a direct flight to Paris or London or Frankfurt redundant. Pittsburgh should be selling its ties to DC, not a direct flight to Paris.

Given the excellent connectivity to DC, why is a direct flight to Paris redundant? Saskia Sassen in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy:

Our geopolitical future is not going to be determined by the G-2 combo of the United States and China. It will run through about 20 emerging strategic urban centers, working as networks rather than conventional hierarchies. Topping the list?

1. Washington/New York/Chicago. These cities are becoming more important geopolitically than the United States is as a country, partly due to war fatigue and the rise of the global economy. Chicago is rising fast as a geopolitical actor; think of the state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao in January, when he stopped not just in Washington but also in Chicago.

Both Sassen and Edward Glaesser were asked to list "16 global cities to watch." DC makes the cut. Cities that can't (won't) get on the A-list of global importance should be concerned about links to those that are. Indianapolis and Milwaukee don't need to become Chicago. They need to better leverage the proximity and connectivity to Chicago.

In a global urban hierarchy, the A-list cities are going to have strong connectivity with each other. You move to one of them, you get better access to all of them. If you want better access to Washington but can't/won't move to the DC region, then move to Pittsburgh.

As for Cleveland, I recommend leveraging the connectivity to New York City. Some may argue for Chicago. Fine, but choose one and make it a centerpiece of the regional economic development strategy. Forget the golden hub years. The world has changed a great deal from that time period. Don't try to out-Charlotte, Charlotte.

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