Tuesday, April 29, 2008

can the rust belt come back?

probably not.

Harvard's Ed Glaeser received a good amount of attention over the past few months because of this journal article: Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?

Glaeser's answer: Buffalo probably can't come back, and "government should stop bribing people to stay there."

He continues:
"The truth is, the federal government has already spent vast sums of taxpayer money over the past half-century to revitalize Buffalo, only to watch the city continue to decay. Future federal spending that tries to revive the city will likely prove equally futile. The federal government should instead pursue policies that help Buffalo’s citizens, not the city as a geographical place. State and local policymakers could take steps that might—might—help Buffalo stave off its demise, if they avoid the errors of the past. But make no mistake: Buffalo faces long odds."
These comments prompted passionate debates (of course) in communities across the nation, and so to continue the debate, Buffalo invited Glaeser to speak there. His reasoned presentation (with apology) is embedded below, and worth watching:

The essence of Glaeser's Buffalo speech is this:

Regions and communities are too focused on measures such as population growth, population decline, and dollars allocated for construction projects. A community's most important responsibility is to deliver skills to its people and to assist in the creation of a physical environment which allows them to thrive.

It means maintaining safe neighborhoods and educational opportunities for youth. It means judging infrastructure projects on their flexibility of use and cost-benefit. It means attracting smart people and then getting out of their way.

It means concentrating on the things which are sometimes very difficult to measure.

- - -

how might this thinking in this speech impact Youngstown?

Perhaps the conversation shifts, and the often repeated measures such as "number of jobs this project created" and "number of dollars spent on construction projects" become less important. Establishing programs such as tutoring city school kids and strengthening block watches become more preferred actions of the city's Department of Economic Development instead of financing incentive packages and tax abaitments. (the department might be looking for more things to do when the next city budget comes out anyway)

Perhaps the strategy shifts to intentionally cluster people with diverse skills, especially into denser pockets downtown where the technology companies exist, and into denser neighborhoods (like Smoky-Hollow, downtown and the Garden District). The importance of proximity and interactions that come with proximity should be pushed by civic leaders.

Perhaps the actions of individuals shift, in that every person reading this post should be a big brother or a big sister to a youth in the city. Enough of a shift that every young person has even three or four mentors outside of their family and neighborhood they can ask for advice when guidance is needed.

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