I’ve followed and admired the work of Jim Russell and Richey Piiparinen from afar for quite some time. As a geographer, Jim has written extensively about the impact of migration on economic development, going so far as to suggest that it can be a key determinant of economic success for a metropolitan area. He’s doing his best to turn all the conventional assumptions of the economic development profession on its head. Similarly, Richey has written extensively about Rust Belt Chic, the growing movement that suggests that Rust Belt cities can grow by simply being themselves, rather than trying to be something they’re not. Richey has been one of the first to recognize that there is an appeal that Rust Belt cities have that is attracting a certain group of urban pioneers, and Rust Belters should do what they can to capitalize on their assets.
Together, they’ve authored a new and important study that unites their views. Entitled “From Balkanized Cleveland to Global Cleveland”, the study pointedly does three things. First, it explains the importance of demographic churn for a metro area:
“(S)uccessful urban centers require a constant inflow of migrants. While cries of “brain drain” are predominant, retaining residents is less import than attracting migrants, and this is evidenced by the fact that the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA’s) of New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Chicago led the country in the number of residents leaving a region from 2000 to 20103. (See Appendix A for list of metros with most residents leaving.) Cleveland’s metro ranked 35th in the number of residents out-migrating from 2000 to 2010, despite being the 28th largest metro in the country4. In fact, the Cleveland metro showed stable population figures from 1990 (2,102,248) to 2010 (2,077,240)…
It is important to note how this “churn” helps cities. Knowledge-based economies run on the quality of ideas. Ideas are not only a function of intelligence or education, but also the depth of information a person, or a city, receives. Historically, a lack of information—via a lack of demographic inflow—has “Balkanized” social networks in Rust Belt cities. This has led to a culture of parochialism, which has hurt economic development.”
Second, it touts and documents Cleveland’s nascent back-to-the-city, Rust Belt Chic urban infill:
“The analysis (by one of the co-authors), entitled “Not Dead Yet: The Infill of Cleveland’s Urban Core”13, showed the city’s downtown grew by 96% from 1990 to 2010, reaching 9,098 residents. Most of the growth was due to a rapid increase in young adults aged 22 to 34.”
Third, it suggests that Cleveland and other Rust Belt cities could be the beneficiaries of a new migratory trend that could hold the key to future economic growth:
”What is going on here? The authors theorize that a new migration pattern is emerging. Specifically, much like the manufacturing economy before it, the innovation economy—epitomized by the spiky knowledge hubs of Silicon Valley and New York—may be diffusing due to the diminishing scale of returns of agglomeration. These diminished returns are keyed by a high cost of labor for knowledge workers in spiky metros, with the labor overhead tied to exorbitant cost of living indexes in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston20. Another issue is the fact that technological advances have in effect leveled the playing field for Middle America. It is becoming more common, for instance, to telecommute to a job in New York from a home office in Cleveland.”
I think this is fascinating research, and I do believe it can demonstrate a new way forward for Rust Belt cities.
However, we should not lose sight of the social dimension of the outmigration and its impacts, and consider policy solutions for them as well.
Consider this. I’ve done some analysis on central city black population and metro area economic performance, as measured by median household income and GDP (unfortunately I’m having trouble embedding the tables in this post, so I’ll do my best to describe the analysis). First, I looked at the relationship between central city black population in 1970 and central city population growth through 2010, for the 50 largest metro areas in 2010, starting in 1970 because that would be the generally acknowledged end of the African-American Great Migration.
The analysis found that there was a negative correlation between 1970 central city black population and subsequent population growth. For example, Las Vegas, a city with a modest black population in 1970 (11.2 percent) grew 364 percent between 1970 and 2010, but its black population was steady throughout the period (it’s 11.1 percent today). On the other hand, Detroit, which shrank by nearly 53 percent between 1970 and 2010, and had a black population of 43.7 percent in 1970. The chart shows a trendline that illustrates that the higher the black population of a city in 1970, the more population that city lost in the intervening decades.
The same relationship holds true for median household income and for GDP per capita, at the metro level. San Jose has traditionally had low levels of black population (although higher levels of other minorities), and has exploded in the last 40 years in terms of median household income and GDP per capita. Meanwhile, the laggards in both categories include cities like Baltimore, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. This even holds true for Sun Belt southern cities with historically large black populations, like Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston, which have underperformed relative to other Sun Belt locales (like Portland, Seattle and Denver).
So, using this data (taken from the U.S. Census), an argument could be made that the presence of significant black populations in major cities has had a dampening effect on metro area economic success, at least as established through median household income and GDP per capita.
Conventional analysis seems to suggest that poor economic performance among blacks is due to poor connections with the economic wellsprings of a given metro area, bringing down overall income and GDP figures. However, I’m putting another spin on this, uniting this data with Russell and Piiparinen’s churn theory. Wherever there were substantial central city black populations in 1970 (say, 25 percent or more), demographic churn seems to have progressed at a significantly slower rate than in cities with lower black populations. I’m suggesting that the lack of churn following blacks in major cities has hurt not only the economic prospects of the metro areas, but of blacks themselves.
That’s the social dimension of an economic dilemma.
It’s often been noted that the isolation of urban African-Americans is a key factor in their inability to achieve greater economic success. However, I’ve always argued that isolation at some level cannot exist without insulation at another. This analysis demonstrates that maybe there’s been some negative impact to metro area insulation.