Thursday, February 23, 2012

Urban Jewels Of Appalachia

In Northern Appalachia, there is Pittsburgh. Chattanooga anchors Southern Appalachia. Both cities are on the cutting edge of urban chic:

Forget Austin, forget Brooklyn, forget Portland, forget Silver Lake. What are the cities on the verge of hipsterfication right now?

Chattanooga heads the list. Pittsburgh merits runner-up status. Neither city succeeded following Richard Florida's Creative Class program. Thus, the Rust Belt may look to Appalachia for urban revitalization:

Chattanooga has gone from a “tough grimy place where there was no investment, and very few prospects,” said James Brooks, program director at the Washington-based National League of Cities, to a city where quality of place is credited with helping attract investment such as Volkswagen’s $1 billion North American assembly plant that opened last year on a former brownfield site. That VW plant now employs 2,500 people.

It is a place that has “really completely transformed itself and you can see a beginning and end,” Brooks said. ...

... The Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, in 2010, led a local delegation to Pittsburgh to learn more about the area’s economic turnaround. The lessons brought back included committed leadership of high-profile CEOs, collaboration, leveraging of higher education assets and diversification that didn’t overlook existing key industries. The chamber is incorporating strategies that reflect those ideas in its economic-development efforts. Its upcoming Mackinac Policy Conference will feature a discussion on urban revitalization.

Benjamin Erulkar, the chamber’s senior vice president of economic development, said Pittsburgh is “a standout” for what it has accomplished. “If people don’t want to move to your city, or if people want to leave, then your prospects of succeeding at urban reinvention are almost nil,” he said.

I can't speak for Chattanooga, but Pittsburgh isn't resting on recent accolades. The full court press continues:

Regardless of the fuss surrounding Mr Obama’s jobs bill, in the fourth quarter of 2011, leading state officials from all over the US were flocking to Asia. In October, Mr Hormats himself joined the six governor-strong mission to Beijing, led by Washington state’s Christine Gregoire, followed a month later by Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership representatives travelling to Taizhou in China and Virginia governor Bob McDonnell visiting Mumbai in India.

On top of that, some US regions are taking an unconventional approach to getting themselves noticed. Suzi Pegg, Pittsburgh Regional Alliance vice-president of global marketing, says that apart from conventional high-level meetings, city representatives tour together with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to conduct business talks in tune with spectacular renditions of Brahms and Rachmaninoff. “I would characterise our efforts to promote the Pittsburgh region for FDI as robust,” says Ms Pegg.

That's what I call leveraging your legacy assets instead whining about crushing legacy costs. Pittsburgh is a metro dynamo, in the heart of Appalachia. Quoting Nick DeIuliis, president of CONSOL Energy Inc., in the most recent issue of the Pittsburgh Quarterly:

Pittsburgh may be in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but our economic ties make us much more the capital of Appalachia. Look at the drivers of the economy, culture and how we view things socially. These 32 counties have so much in common.

Emphasis added. Mr. DeIuliis is referring to the Power of 32 regional initiative. Organizers are pushing the Appalachian identity. I think this makes more sense than embracing the Rust Belt or a Great Lakes megaregion. Pittsburgh and Chattanooga are thriving in the hills of Appalachia.


Michele said...

I live in Pittsburgh now, and grew up in the region. But I have to add a shout out to Chattanooga, where I lived for 16 years, beginning at the very start of its urban transformation. Today, its downtown is lively and diverse, while Pittsburgh's downtown -- with notable exceptions like the Cultural District, South Side, and sports venues -- is often silent. We all can learn from each other, and you've provided good examples in Pittsburgh and Chattanooga.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, for some reason our Dear Leaders keep trying to get people to go downtown...but it's completely sterile. Which was fine when we had many corporate HQ's there.

What has worked is serial revitilization/gentrification in the neighborhoods - south side, the strip, now lawrenceville and bloomfield...even East Liberty is starting to turn around.

Keep in mind though, that without massive funds from the state (vie funding for aforementioned higher ed., redevelopment funds, etc) we would never have turned it around.

I don't say this to mean that it's a good thing - dependency on funding is a weak position and has allowed idiotic tax and spend policies to continue.

HUD and the .gov need to get off so many properties. It's nearly impossible to buy a rundown house - they demand someone else's back taxes, choosing to try and get blood from a stone instead of turning the property over to someone who will use/fix it.