pittsburgh-old-community

This week, I’m in Philadelphia at a Federal Reserve Bank conference titled, “Reinventing Older Communities: Bridging Growth & Opportunity.” At an afternoon workshop on Monday, Elizabeth Kneebone (fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution) and Margery Austin Turner (senior vice president for program planning and management, Urban Institute) discussed “How Changing Demographics Will Impact America’s Urban Revival.” Austin Turner made the point more forcefully than Kneebone: When crafting policy to address urban (and suburban) problems, considering geographic context is critical to success. What works in Houston doesn’t necessarily apply to a Rust Belt (i.e. “older”) community such as Pittsburgh.

Saying place matters doesn’t make one a geographer. Because place matters doesn’t mean geography isn’t dead. Place will still matter in a world less hindered by distance.

I’m inclined to disagree. In 2012, I looked at San Antonio, Texas, through a prism of Pittsburgh. Not only did I find brain gain where others decried brain drain, I saw a lot of the Rust Belt in the most distressed San Antonio neighborhoods. Cities all over the United States have struggled with the decline of manufacturing. San Antonio is no exception.

However, the Federal Reserve Bank has narrowly constrained the geography under consideration to “older communities” defined by the collapse of manufacturing employment. Is the place (i.e. metro) true Rust Belt?

The distinction was made clear by the moderator of the workshop, who chided Kneebone for bringing up an example in Denver, Colorado. Denver is beyond the pale. Chicago isn’t.

Saying place matters doesn’t make one a geographer. Because place matters doesn’t mean geography isn’t dead. Place will still matter in a world less hindered by distance. Concerning the economic geography of reinventing America’s older communities, place doesn’t matter. Where you have neighborhoods that were (perhaps still are) linked to manufacturing employment, you will find common problems and common solutions. Critical to this understanding is making the link between a place and the global economy. For community developers, that link is only beginning to be made. People develop, not places.


Does Geographic Context Matter When Reinventing America’s Older Communities? was first posted on May 12, 2014 at 5:40 pm.