Talent migration should be an excellent indicator of economic development. Again, I will point to the innovative use of IRS relocation data by Stamen Design. "Quiet America" is where neither income nor people shift. Economic development is zero. In normative terms, churn is good. Outmigration can be a positive indicator of economic health.

As Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) has argued, New York City is the picture of health. The domestic migration picture says otherwise. New York is the biggest loser. This disparity says a lot about how we misunderstand migration. New York pulls in talent from all over the country and then spits it out (usually to nearby suburbs and exurbs) with significantly more earning power. At their best, cities develop people.

Rust Belt cities have a long history of developing people. The dominant pattern is a move from urban neighborhoods to suburban neighborhoods. This relocation was, still is, a hallmark of success. The population of the city dwindled. Most of the people left in town were stuck. They couldn't afford to leave. This is the shrinking cities problem.

For many years, Washington, DC was a shrinking city. The recent transformation:

Even as the District bleeds residents to the suburbs, it is gaining newcomers who are moving to the city from outside the region, new census data show.

More people relocate to the District each year from Manhattan than from Fairfax County. The District gains more residents from Chicago and Los Angeles than from Alexandria, with newcomers from Philadelphia and San Diego close behind. Eight of the top 15 places that people have left for the District are outside the region.

Census data released Wednesday show that migration patterns reflect a revitalized District that has been gaining residents for the first time in more than half a century. Most of the new arrivals are young adults who move here to attend college and stay, or arrive fresh from graduation to land their first professional jobs.


DC is going through what I would term "Stage 2" urban talent migration. Inter-regional migration to the urban core replaces what the suburbs take away. It also displaces the stuck who couldn't move to the more affluent outer-rings. Young adults are repopulating Washington, DC.

DC is indicative of a general trend, the filling in of the doughnut hole. Each city seems to sport a unique sort of urban rebound. Which isn't to say the suburbs are dying. The outmigration persists. The inmigration is a novel development.

Return migration is revitalizing Rust Belt cities. The spread in the latest Details magazine makes that talent migration a central theme. One of the many Pittsburgh returns celebrated:

Yes, it's the cornerstone of the soon-to-boom Penn Ave Arts District, but Assemble is more than a gallery. The year-old space feels more like an informal classroom where visitors come for the interactive, tech-focused art, then stay for the hacker workshops, PechaKucha presentations, and dance parties. Built by Nina Marie Barbuto, a native Pittsburgher who returned after a stint in L.A., as a hub for aspiring creatives, Assemble is a place for first drafts, manifestos, artistic experimentation—paint the walls, break out the solder guns. In Pittsburgh, Barbuto observes, "You don't need much to make things happen."


A bunch of anecdotes do not a trend make. Thanks to the American Community Survey, we've got numbers from 2005-2009 to test the return migration theory. The Pittsburgh Urban Blog:

The tables below show the top [originations] and [destinations] of migration flows impacting the City of Pittsburgh. The estimates of migration flows represent the number of people estimated to have moved into or out of the City of Pittsburgh over a year. Data is available for specific municipalities in 12 states which includes Pennsylvania. For other states data is summarized to the county level. For international immigration the origination is summarized to a region of the world. International immigration is only available for inflows of population. Population moving outside of the United States will not be surveyed by the ACS.

For the City of Pittsburgh, the largest inflow of migrants came from nations in Asia, while the largest recorded outflow was to the municipality of Penn Hills in Allegheny County.


The destinations are mostly within the region. There are two exceptions, Brooklyn and Maricopa County (Arizona). The "originations" are more complicated. It looks a lot like the above DC story. People are coming in from Asia and Africa. Domestically, Philadelphia, New York, DC, Baltimore, LA, and Chicago dominate. As Chris Briem (Null Space) has remarked, Pittsburgh has a much more national draw. I would point out that Pittsburgh finally gets as good as it gives, and then some. More people come from Brooklyn than move to Brooklyn.

I've seen a similar development in Cleveland. It's the return migration revitalizing the urban core. Both Pittsburgh and Cleveland send a lot of young talent to New York City to be developed. A substantial number is coming home and making the news Detailsis reporting. From Cleveland suburbs to urban New York and then back to the homeland city neighborhoods, brain drain is fueling the Rust Belt reset.