Rust Belt Chic

Jordan Ballor highlighted an interesting article from Joel Kotkin in New Geography. The quote that caught Ballor’s attention is worth pondering:

“Instead of chasing hipsters, Cleveland urban strategist Richey Piiparinen suggests cities such as his rebuild their economies from the ground up, tapping the strong industrial skills, work ethic and resilient culture deeply embedded in the region. Large factories may not return en masse to Cleveland, Detroit or Chicago, but a strong industrial economy and a culture embracing hard work could stir growth in service-related fields as well.”

This was an interesting piece, given Kotkin’s greenfield, suburban tilt. Hipsters or new urbanists can’t save a community by themselves (the mistake of “Cool Cities”) but they can still play an important role in the revitalization of the city as a diverse community.  Creative, problem solving communities need a certain critical mass to thrive — this is the sociological and economic truth underlying Richard Florida’s work. Communities need to be sticky if they are to thrive.

Of course,  strong, diverse education opportunities are another important part for revival.

Kotkin’s piece also missed the sheer amount of intellectual property generated at the research universities — something that Longworth captured in Caught In The Middle. By most lights it has generally been under-monetized, generating incredible number of patents but falling behind on the development into community building businesses. The model for growth here would be that of Pittsburgh which oddly does sustain a “hipster” community (i.e. Kotkin’s animus blinds him to the realities).

The need to monetize IP through entrepreneurial activity pushes tax and economic policy in one direction in the state, while the need for stronger Community Colleges (the trade school) requires steps in another. Resolving this tension has been politically difficult to date — the elected Republican party has been adverse to these sorts of economic and educational investments — there is a rant here that will be left for some other day.

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