Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ironic Migration: Washington, DC

We recognize boom towns as an effect without cause. The "analysis" for the influx of migrants is actually a synopsis of just how good it is. The positive feedback loop machine:

"Washington, D.C., is unique because over the last five years its unemployment rate was not hit as hard by the Great Recession," said Michael Stoll, chair and professor of public policy at the University of California at Los Angeles about the study. "But I think the other thing is that the city has remade itself from the one we knew 10 to 15 years ago."

Emphasis added. The topic sentence is begging the question. Yes, the city has transformed. Why? How? From the same article:

Thirteen years ago the band The Magnetic Fields crooned that the U.S. capital city is "the greatest place to be," in the indie love song "Washington, D.C."

Recently, a growing number of Americans are singing along as they move to the District in search of jobs, economic opportunity and cultural attractions.

In a study on migration provided exclusively to Reuters that is set to be released next month, United Van Lines found the District of Columbia tops all 50 states for the number of people moving in during 2012.

The Magnetic Fields is an ironic migration indicator. I remember feeling the pull in Pittsburgh way back in 1997. Yinzer hipsters were heeding the siren call of the U Street corridor, longing to hang out at Black Cat and the 9:30 Club. This urban pioneer attraction sapped Pittsburgh's own revitalization story, which would be buried in the rubble of the Dot-Com Bust. The entire scene picked up and moved to DC.

Why DC popped and Pittsburgh did not is still a mystery to me. While DC is now in full bloom, Pittsburgh is enjoying its own recession renaissance. Pittsburgh is the greatest place to be, its gravity experienced in the neighborhoods of DC's spiraling rents. The new U Street is Penn Avenue.

The Pittsburgh talent migration is roughly a decade behind DC, a good projection of where the city is headed. Why? How? I don't know. A boom town is an effect without cause.


BrianTH said...

Wasn't it high-paying jobs? As I recall, the DC area had a bunch of telecom and other "dot com" jobs being created in the late 1990s, and then in the 2000s there was a big increase in jobs fueled by government contracts (lots of defense/military stuff in particular--after all, we were fighting a couple wars), and all along it benefited from the increasing salaries for top-shelf legal jobs, and so on.

Steve said...

BrianTH is right about what happened to the DC area. Between the 2 wars, general government expansion, and related things, there were a lot of high paying jobs that needed to be filled. But as we see now with the wars ending and the fiscal cliff, that growth was unsustainable. It also created a lot of related problems like an overburdened transportation system.

Pittsburgh might be living in the shadow of DC right now, but the growth in Pittsburgh is much more sustainable. Pittsburgh will also be a compelling alternative for a lot of people who will be looking to leave the DC area in the near future.