Category Archives: Brain Drain

Returning to a More Hopeful Buffalo

After nearly three years in San Francisco, I threw in the towel and came home to Buffalo. I wasn’t proud of my decision to boomerang back to my parents’ house, but I had quit my job at an unnecessarily stressful and ineffective nonprofit to return to graduate school and travel, and had the better part of a year before school would start. Staying in my studio apartment was out of the question. Even if I were to start freelancing right away, it was costing me $1,400 a month, and I just couldn’t afford it.

Then there was the added fact that despite really liking the new friends I’d made, the many beautiful sights of San Francisco, and the cache of being in one of the coolest cities in the country, I was claustrophobic. City living just wasn’t working for me, and I longed for my parents’ forty acres north of Buffalo. Of course, I knew I was romanticizing the place, but that didn’t change the fact that I just wasn’t happy where I was.

San Franciscans seemed baffled by the fact that I was going back to some forgotten backwater, identical in their minds to the jobless, dying– and above all Republican– places they had fled from. But they tried to be understanding, especially because they all dealt with the ridiculous cost of living there and had seen many friends go because of it.

I came back home to nothing like what they imagined. The Western New York area, my Rust Belt home, has weathered the economic crisis well enough, with a relatively stable housing market. It’s not all rainbows and puppies by any means. Unemployment, while still above the national average, is falling. Crime rates aren’t very encouraging, with violent crime rising but property crime falling.

But there’s hope at a real grassroots level, and more of it than I recall seeing when I left. The Buffalo Barn Raisers, for example, have a calendar full of interesting social projects, including a Sunday Soup, the micro-granting phenomenon that has spread throughout the country.  Then there’s the explosion of environmental organizations like the Clean Air Coalition, in a nascent stage before I left and now a force to be reckoned with. A lot of the older social justice organizations are still here and going strong like the Coalition for Economic Justice.

Friends are starting their own businesses, including most recently a historical preservation and research consulting company, Old Time Roots. I have heard more stories of entrepreneurs here than ever, and that is a very good sign. There are many people who care about this region doing great work, and what I’ve mentioned here is just a drop in the bucket.

Even though I came back in November just as it was getting cold—the absolute worst timing, for sure—I caught up with old friends who expressed cautious optimism for WNY despite the brain drain that had claimed many of our mutual friends. They told me about the houses they’re rebuilding in the city. They told stories of people they’d met who had just left a draught-stricken South, underwater on their mortgages, and come here as what amounts to climate change refugees.

I don’t want to paint over the serious problems we face here, from poverty to pollution to a failing education system, gentrification and more. But I do believe that this region is on the rise, and not just because of the hopeful things I see around me. Another big factor is that we are right next to the largest source of surface fresh water in the world, and as climate change becomes more severe, we’re likely to see a reverse in our population decline and our brain drain. If we can prepare for this eventuality and clean up our lakes, WNY stands a good chance of being a great place to live in the coming decades.

I’ve also heard a lot fewer people trash-talking Buffalo, saying nothing ever happens here, or that they need to get out and can’t find work. And I’ve even found work! Just some consulting, including for a great new environmental organization. But still, it’s better than nothing. Even living with my parents hasn’t been that bad, and the social stigma of it doesn’t really seem to be too bad here.

When I lived in San Francisco I felt like I was in a liberal haven where loads of other activists were doing all the tough work for me, and I could sit back and just go to a protest or two a year. Here, I feel again like I need to be doing things, even though I’m not sure I’ll be staying very long. Either way, this place is special, and beautiful, and on the rise despite its problems.

By Buffalo boomerang Irene Morrison


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Cities: Rather Than Patronizing Young People, Give Them What They Ask For

Nothing makes me roll my eyes like a civic campaign aimed at attracting young people.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a worthy cause. It’s just that 90 percent of the time, the way they are executed ranges from cluelessly patronizing to counter productive to outright embarrassing.

In one example that really sticks in my mind the guilty party was Columbus, Ohio. Perhaps eight years ago the city got some kind of grant and they spent $30,000 to have some self-styled “Gen Y” expert come tell them how they could retain and attract young people. All I could think was why didn’t they just ask they young people that live there what they want and maybe put the $30,000 toward that?

Lesser and greater crimes have been committed by cities and states across the industrial Midwest and beyond — each one grasping for some special, elusive formula that entrances young people: drawing them in, making them stay put. And 90 percent of them are good for a few laughs at best.

The city of Cleveland — you knew that was coming, didn’t you? — is working on a new one of these babies right now. There is a new initiative called Global Cleveland and it started out as some kind of civic effort to attract immigrants. But one of the major goals of this initiative apparently, is also to attract “boomerangers” back to Cleveland. Boomerangers, you see, are youngish, well-educated people that split for places like New York and DC. For some reason, these guys have been identified as “winnable” and Global Cleveland’s working on promoting a wholesale reversal.

Now, admittedly, I don’t know a ton about Global Cleveland. But what I do know about it, has prompted some reflexive eye-rolling on my part. Here’s what I’ve heard they’ve been doing: hosting focus groups with actual “boomerangers,” writing a blog telling prospective “boomerangers” how great Cleveland is, and they have done sort of a media campaign. See: Rust Belt Chic article in Salon.

So okay. What’s wrong with that you are probably wondering? Why does that make the author — a Cleveland young pro of the coveted variety — want to bang her head against the nearest hard object? They are ASKING young people what they want, sort of. Blogs ARE cool — as we all know. But as a Millennial who actually moved to Cleveland on my own free will without family attachments — I think they are missing the mark badly.

The biggest problem for me is that this campaign seems to rely on the assumption that this blog has devoted itself to counteracting: a myth, narrative, or whatever, so well-worn,

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so beloved by Clevelanders. That is the myth that Cleveland is a great place to live — better than other places even — and that our real problem is not one of the many obvious shortcomings frequently mentioned in the national press, but a woeful and incorrect “image problem.”

This is a narrative that everyone in Cleveland LOVES. This is a narrative that if you challenge — people will insult you personally and fiercely. Challenging the notion that Cleveland is inherently superior to other places, as crazy as it may sound to those outside the rust belt, makes you sort of a political dissident here.

But I think it is wrong, convenient but wrong. I think it is favored because it requires nothing of us. It indulges our delusional vanities and nurses our wounded egos. Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree that Cleveland has its charms. The art museum, the metroparks, the lake, etc. But look, all cities have assets.

The problem for Cleveland is the net package of assets and shortcomings that Cleveland represents is not compelling enough right now to attract young people, immigrants whatever, they way they are in places like San Francisco, New York, Boston.

So, this is a totally radical position for some odd reason and a bunch of people are probably going to attack me in the comments for even saying it. But why on earth doesn’t Cleveland try to be more like New York, or Boston or San Francisco?

I’m serious. There is not a secret formula. The places that are succeeding, they aren’t making a riddle of their methods. They are working very hard to make their environments hospitable to young people. How are they doing that? Through a whole movement called “livability.”

What is livability? Well it incorporates a whole bunch of things: bustling sidewalks, community spaces. But if I had to summarize it succinctly, I would say it is the freedom to get around and lead a fulfilling life without a car. This is exactly what New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and a handful of other cities that are winning the young-people-attracting game are focused on.

Jeff Speck — author of Suburban Nation — wrote in his recent book Walkable City:

A small number of forward-thinking cities are gobbling up the loin’s share of post-teen suburbanites and empty nesters with the wherewithal to live where they want, while most midsized American cities go hungry.

He continues:

Even New York and San Francisco sometimes get things wrong, but they will continue to poach the country’s best and brightest unless our other, more normal cities can learn from their successes while avoiding their mistakes.

Now, I know what you are about to say. You are about to say “but!! But!!! Cleveland doesn’t have as much money as New York.” Or even worse: “What works in New York won’t work in Cleveland!!” To which I say, nonsense!

Young creatives crave walkable urban places. I am one of them. And believe it or not that is the major reason I moved to Cleveland. Cleveland has been blessed, by nature of its old age, with a relatively walkable built environment and even a decent transit system. But somehow Cleveland’s can’t recognize that this is its greatest asset. It continues suburbanizing the city — to a greater or lesser extent — and it embarks on a new marketing campaign to tell the world it’s not nearly as bad here as everyone thinks.

Mystery solved. This is what young people want.

Example: If 75 young people show up at a public meeting and demand a bike lane: there — right there is part of your answer. Cleveland’s existing young people want bike lanes. But somehow, in the actual hierarchy of city priorities, 75 young people’s wishes rank far, far behind those of favored developers. A young professional attraction campaign that tackled that problem: that would be a campaign I could get behind.

Or what about when the city of Cleveland wanted to tear down a historic downtown building and replace it with a parking garage? And hundreds of young people expressed opposition? Again right there, young people who live in Cleveland were expressing their preferences very clearly: they want a dense, walkable downtown — not a car repository for suburbanites. Again, that is the moment the city had a chance to win the hearts and loyalty of young people, but again, young people’s clearly expressed preferences were outweighed by those of a favored developer.

If Cleveland is losing young people to other cities, the correct response is to look at what is attractive about those places and emulate them to

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the extent that we can — and I think we can in a big way. New York has Jeanette Sadik-Khan and pedestrian plazas. Chicago has Gabe Klein and cycle tracks. Those are the young professional attraction mechanisms in those cities — they are city employees empowered to make real changes to the built environment. And they are killing us, while we fumble for our own solution, or deny that we have a problem.

A least, that’s the way I see it, and it’s painful to watch.




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Leaving, and Loving, Buffalo — One Woman's Story

The day I left, I stood at the door of my now- empty refrigerator and cried. “I don’t want to do this”. I said, out loud.

I felt as if I were breaking up with a beautiful, doomed, lovable f- up of a man, one who would serve as a benchmark for both the highest and lowest emotional keynotes in one’s life from that point forward.

I came to be with my brother, who had come to be with my sister, who had come for school—one of the few things Buffalo has left is a top rated art education program at a state school price. After my sister completed her program, she left for greener pastures and my brother did too. I stayed on, for four more years, the first two wonderful, matchless and full of discovery, and the last two a gently sloping off ramp that grew incrementally more painful each day.

The end of school and the unexpected losses that came with it- scholarship, a sense of purpose, fellow learners and encouragement, safety and help—and nothing to replace these things. The loss of one friend after another to cities where either jobs beckoned or family lived who could shield them while they started over. The job that started at 40 hours a week and was cut slowly down to occasional 4 hour Saturday shifts. The shame of having to apply for a HEAP grant to keep my heat on during the punishing winter. The cold sweat of having to choose between mushrooms and lettuce at Price Chopper because I don’t have quite enough for both. Finally, the dull, well worn track between the check cashing place that doesn’t ask too many questions, the dollar store, and the bus stop that takes me to my 9$ an hour commission- based collections job, the last job I’d ever work in Buffalo.

But really, I left mostly because the last of my friends, who had acted as a surrogate family, safety net and all around entourage, had left. And they left because there were not enough jobs in their field. Without them, the grinding, crushing poverty of the city became a starvation of the spirit that eventually drove me from my home.

The generic cialis reviews challenges others might find disheartening—run down neighborhoods full of decaying boarded up haunted houses awaiting the wrecker’s ball, hollowed out downtown surrounded by snobbish know-nothing suburbanites, “the brain drain”, lack of resources so severe it lead me to describe life in the city as “living in a 150,000 person gypsy camp”—those things just added to the ineffable glamour of the city. My city. As they say, if you could make it here….

I fell in love with Buffalo while reading real estate ads that contained the words where to buy viagra ‘front house’ and ‘back house’. Any city with its own lexicon viagra for sale was the city viagra versus cialis for me. For everyone that lived and loved there, Buffalo grabbed them, squeezed their heart, and never really let go.

There were many, many things to love about Buffalo, but the finest thing was the intense, almost maniacal love of the city that the residents had for it—a love that flourished against odds, reason, and reality.

A video submission to “A Cook’s Tour” that convinced a celebrity chef well known for his cynical side to come and see our “cuisine” in the dead of a Lake Effect Snow winter. A website devoted only to the springy, funny, odd jargon one finds only in Buffalo—screamers, pounders, “The Strip”, white hots and all. The fact that a half-assed dilettante writer like me could win a writing contest the goal of which was to include as many local sites as possible in a short story.

This and so much more- the hard winters that gave way to the sweetest summers imaginable. The rush that comes from finally “clocking” the whole town—knowing all the best places to eat, drink, sleep and be merry—and being able to show off your beloved Queen City to your visiting friends. Around every corner, another corner, and that full of wonders that make a mockery of one’s attempts to describe them—a punk kid with a Mohawk play- wrestling a Husky dog in a “city prairie”, two tumble down mansions on either side of him, late July sun bathing the scene in honey. Standing breathless in the observation deck of City Hall and watching my friend point to the places where he played, learned, worked, wrecked his car, fell in love, and came home again. Having a drink in the Polish Social Club, and feeling like you’ve been given some kind of secret you can’t wait to share.

This was what I gave up to seek my fortune in the Far East.

Now I live in the Philippines, working as a designer of training programs for a large, multinational call center. The job, its perks, and the lifestyle I live here (I can literally fly off on a four day vacation with no forethought or planning) is something I would not be able to have in Buffalo, but if I were to win the lottery, I would return in a heartbeat. Not one day goes by that I don’t think about my gorgeously decayed city on the lake and how badly I want to go back.

My friends and I used to dream aloud, not about exotic vacations or living in Beverly Hills, but of “the Buffalo Life”, a kind of ur-bobo lifestyle: Forty- something bohemian aristocrats who’d traveled and repatriated the city and lived in gorgeous, original- plank- wood -floored homes peppered with gift –of- the- artist paintings. They had dogs, they drank fifty- dollar (fifty dollar! Wouldn’t that be fine!) bottles of wine and they went jogging in Delaware Park in the early Fall looking as if they had the world on a string. That was the life we all wanted, and Buffalo held it out so tantalizingly to us—but somehow the last veil was never lifted, the final tumbler in the lock never clicked for us, and that life remained out of reach.

Ultimately, the town wasn’t big enough for the two of us: me and my friends. Someone had to go, and in the end, all of us went.

–Naomi Shira Kelsey

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2012 Economic Study has Good News for Rust Belt Metros

According to the report “100 Leading Locations for 2012” by Area Development Online, 34 metropolitan areas of the Rust Belt made the Top 100, including the pre-eminent architectural showplace of Columbus, Indiana which was ranked number one.

Below is a list of those Rust Belt metropolitan areas that made the Top 100 in 2012. Congratulations to each of them, especially Columbus, Indiana.


1. Columbus, Indiana

9. Morgantown, West Virginia

12. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

16. Dubuque, Iowa

17. State College, Pennsylvania

20. Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey

24. Holland-Grand Haven, Michigan

29. Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa

30. Ames, Iowa

33. Baltimore, Maryland

34. Williamsport, Pennsylvania

37. Sandusky, Ohio

38. Ann Arbor, Michigan

48. Columbus, Ohio

49. Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York

51. Fort Wayne, Indiana

53. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York

57. Grand Rapids-Wyoming, Michigan

59. Oshkosh-Neenah, Wisconsin

61. Eau Claire, Wisconsin

63. Des Moines, Iowa

66. Rochester, Minnesota

70. Toledo, Ohio

77. Duluth-Superior, Minnesota-Wisconsin

78. Peoria, Illinois

83. Cumberland, Maryland-West Virginia

84. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania-New Jersey

85. Twin Cities, Minnesota-Wisconsin

88. Appleton, Wisconsin

90. Iowa City, Iowa

91. Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana

95. La Crosse, Wisconsin-Minnesota

96. Greater Lansing, Michigan

98. Bay City, Michigan

– Rick Brown

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Innovation Clusters of the Rust Belt

With the recently celebrated opening of the nation’s first satellite office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Detroit, I thought it might be fun to explore which metropolitan regions in the Rust Best are hotspots for new innovation as measured by the number of patents issued. The data provided is cumulative for the five year period of 2006 through 2010.

For Detroit and Buffalo, I also included patent data for adjacent areas in Ontario since they are a part of the metropolitan region. Needless to say, I was rather thrilled to find out which of the metropolitan regions came in first place (even without Windsor’s 376 American patents included). Buffalo’s ranking moved up two spots on the list either with the inclusion of 189 American patents from Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, Ontario.

Min 250 patents (or 50/year) between 2006-2010

  1. Detroit-Ann Arbor-Windsor, MI-ON  – 13,121
  2. Chicago-Naperville-Kenosha, IL-IN-WI – 12,526
  3. Twin Cities Region, MN-WI – 11,554
  4. Philadelphia-Trenton-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE – 10,345
  5. Rochester, NY – 5,227
  6. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, OH – 4,540
  7. Cincinnati-Hamilton-Wilmington, OH-KY-IN – 3,446
  8. Baltimore, MD – 2,950
  9. Pittsburgh, PA – 2,968
  10. Albany-Glens Falls, NY – 2,952
  11. St. Louis, MO-IL – 2,750
  12. Milwaukee-Racine, WI – 2,551
  13. Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus, IN  – 2,423
  14. Worcester, MA – 2,037
  15. Providence-Fall River, RI-MA – 1,884
  16. Madison-Beaver Dam, WI  – 1,864
  17. Rochester, MN – 1,789
  18. Columbus-Newark-Lancaster, OH – 1,612
  19. Allentown-Bethlehem, PA-NJ – 1,404
  20. Grand Rapids-Holland-Muskegon, MI – 1,385
  21. Des Moines-Ames, IA  – 1,351
  22. Buffalo-Niagara Falls-St. Catharines, NY-ON – 1,268
  23. Lake Winnebego (Appleton-Oshkosh-Fond du Lac), WI – 1,187
  24. Dayton-Springfield, OH – 1,079
  25. Fort Wayne-Warsaw-Van Wert,  IN-OH – 894
  26. Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, IA – 881
  27. Peoria-Canton, IL – 872
  28. St. Joseph Valley (South Bend-Elkhart-Niles), IN-MI – 800
  29. Syracuse, NY – 796
  30. Lafayette-Kokomo, IN – 723
  31. Binghamton-Oneonta, NY-PA – 720
  32. Rock Valley, IL-WI – 671
  33. Harrisburg-Gettysburg, PA – 663
  34. Elmira-Corning-Sayre, NY-PA – 644
  35. Toledo- Findlay-Fremont, OH – 638
  36. Springfield, MA – 555
  37. Kalamazoo Valley, MI – 550
  38. Champaign-Urbana, IL – 523
  39. Lancaster, PA – 509
  40. Ithaca-Cortland, NY – 503
  41. Lansing-Jackson, MI – 490
  42. Saginaw Bay, MI – 448
  43. York, PA – 428
  44. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Poconos, PA  – 347
  45. Youngstown-Warren-Salem, OH-PA – 342
  46. Quad Cities, IA-IL – 309
  47. Erie, PA – 306
  48. Reading-Pottsville, PA – 301
  49. Evansville, IN-KY-IL – 293
  50. State College-Lewistown, PA – 258

– Rick Brown

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Niagara Falls: Reversing decline in a bipolar city

My definition of bipolar urban areas are those that have two principal cities at their core but that have each taken nearly opposite paths socioeconomically. The two cities possess Jekyll-and-Hyde-like qualities–one being quite healthy and prosperous while the other suffering from poverty, economic distress, or environmental degradation. While every significant urban area has its areas of poverty, distress, and degradation, a bipolar region differs in the fact that one of two primary core communities is the site of concentrated problems.

Unfortunately, in some cases the socioeconomic differences can be so stark that it’s almost like a third-world city has developed directly adjacent to a first world city, even though in many cases they exist in the same country.

Here are some examples of bipolar urban areas in North America.

  • El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
  • Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas
  • Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada and Niagara Falls, New York
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Camden, New Jersey
  • St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan
  • St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois

A bipolar urban case study:

These stark differences can be easily observed by both the residents and the millions of tourists alike in the Niagara Falls region of New York and Ontario.


The Niagara Falls region has been a tourist destination for many decades due to its awesome natural wonders–not just the waterfalls themselves, but the whirlpools, rainbows, nearby Great Lakes, and the impressive gorge below the falls. Combine those with numerous tourist attractions and historic sites and you have a recipe for long-term economic success on both sides of the border.


But Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario have followed two different paths since World War II and have ended up at nearly opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Niagara Falls, Ontario is a busy tourist destination with a pleasing mix of modern and stately hotels, gorgeous and carefully manicured parks and gardens, scenic parkways, lovely neighborhoods, and busy commercial centers. Granted, it can be argued that Ontario has the better overall view of the American and Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls, but that alone shouldn’t have led to such a vast and visible difference right across the river.


For many years, parts of Niagara Falls, New York seemed virtually desolate compared to its vibrant Canadian neighbor. Instead of relying largely on tourism as Canada did, Niagara Falls, New York also used the enormous raw power generated by the falls to become an industrialized city. As a result, when those industries began to falter, the city declined in suit.

Niagara Falls, NY – Source:

Downtown has seen a number of revitalization schemes put in place, some successful, others not. Much of the city’s breathtaking riverfront was marred by the limited access Robert Moses State Parkway, which also cut the city off from its source of fame and fortune. While the state parks abutting the falls remain busy, access to the heart of the city was impeded. Power plants and chemical plants were built (and in some cases abandoned) in the city, while electrical transmission and distribution lines crisscross the landscape.

Among the most heartbreaking legacies are the remnants of industrial indiscretions which have left visible scars —Love Canal being the most infamous. Niagara Falls, New York has never fully recovered from its industrial course and today remains a symbol of Rust Belt decay and dismay. The city’s population loss reflects this, as it has fallen from a high of 102,394 in 1960 to a mere 50,193 in 2010.

Niagara Falls, ON – Source:

On the other hand, Niagara Falls, Ontario is simply a delight to visit. Beautifully landscaped parks and gardens, neat and trim neighborhoods, prosperous business and shopping districts, a growing and very impressive skyline for a city its size, well-maintained infrastructure, and a healthy and appealing ambiance all garner kudos. Each time I have visited Niagara Falls, Ontario I have been more impressed by the pride evoked by its citizens and business community. As a result, Niagara Falls, Ontario’s population has grown over the same decades, increasing from 22,874 in 1951 to 82,997 in 2011.

Are there ways to reverse the decline facing these urban Mr. Hydes without displacing those who have struggled to weather decades of socio-economic distress? Only time will tell. But, as urban planners, I believe part of our social, ethical, and moral responsibility is to seek viable solutions to such problems and do our level best to see them implemented.

Do I profess to have the solutions? Of course not; I would never be so vain. But I do know this–the status quo does not work. As Daniel Burnham so aptly said, “Make no little plans.”

In Niagara Falls, New York’s case, the first thing I would consider is demolishing and/or converting the limited access Robert Moses Parkway into a landscaped grade level boulevard with an adjacent but physically separated scenic bicycle trail overlooking the river and gorge. Apparently, I am not alone in the idea of removing the limited access highway. The multi-purpose bicycle trail would extend from one end of the city to the other and hopefully all the way to Lake Ontario.

Once the boulevard and bike trail have been established, a series of attractions could be developed along with a mix of low to mid-rise, ecologically friendly lodging and entertainment venues overlooking the lush surroundings. Linking these with attractions such as the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and TrailheadProspect PointTerrapin PointCave of the WindsGoat Island, a proposed Nikola Tesla Science Museum in the world’s first hydroelectric plant, the planned restoration of the Niagara Gorge Rim, and the very successful ArtPark.

Most important would be to incorporate a variety of residential options along and near the boulevard/bike trail and provide direct walkable connections from downtown, existing residential areas, and other parks. The inclusion of residential options will assist in building a local client base for area businesses as well as provide new housing options within the city itself.

Unlike many cities facing difficult socioeconomic challenges, Niagara Falls, New York does have numerous great natural, scenic, ecological, and historical elements from which to build a strong economic base. It also has serious name recognition. From the list of existing and planned projects provided above, it is evident that they are working diligently to re-establish a thriving community. Kudos on their efforts to date and continued best wishes to Niagara Falls for the future.

— Rick Brown

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Coastal Migration to the Rust Belt and Vice Versa — By the Numbers

This post was written by Rob Pitingolo and originally appeared on his awesome blog Extraordinary Observations.

Last weekend Angie Schmitt pointed me to an article by Douglas Trattner in Fresh 20 mg cialis Water Cleveland. The author suggests Rust Belt cities, left for dead, are suddenly booming again. Angie was suspicious of some of the claims and I offered to check it out. Let’s start with the article…

Daily, it seems, another cultural sociologist is writing about the current trend of reverse migration — young creatives fleeing the Coasts in droves in favor of “decaying” industrial cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit. These cities, you see, are appealing because of the decay. That and ironic pleasures like bowling, pierogies, and polka.

Of course, there is enough truth and fiction in that charming narrative to choke a thesis on contemporary demographics. The truth is, young people are moving back to cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh — and at rates that outpace those of posh suburban zip codes. Offering the promise of a better (cheaper) quality of life — and yes, the ironic pleasures of bowling, pierogies, and polka — Rust Belt cities truly have become “chic.”

The pivotal point in the narrative may have occurred on May 12, 2012. That’s when Salon published the article “Rust Belt Chic: Declining Midwest cities make a comeback.” The sub-hed was “Gritty Rust Belt cities, once left for dead, are on the rise — thanks to young people priced out of cooler locales.”

The quote above conflates two distinct ideas. First, that young people have found new love for Rust Belt cities because the “cooler locales” in coastal metros have gotten so expensive that young people can’t afford them anymore. Second, that when these people live in rust belt cities, they opt for the urban core rather than the “posh” suburbs.

I think the second point has some merit, and it’s been documented that even in central Cleveland neighborhoods that are losing population, the number of young people in those neighborhoods is growing (the key to remember is that these neighborhoods are still shrinking, they’re just shifting appeal to a younger crowd). Nevertheless, the first point is open to interpretation, and whether you think it’s true or not depends how you define “droves” of people.

To figure out the answer to this question requires more than just anecdotes about people who moved from Brooklyn to Cleveland or San Francisco to Detroit. I dug into ACS data from 2008-2010 to answer a few key questions for the three cities mentioned in the article above:

  1. How many moved from the Rust Belt metro to a coastal metro?
  2. How many moved from a coastal metro to the Rust Belt metro?
  3. How do the two numbers compare?
I looked at three groups who moved: everyone, people aged 20-35 (since much of the literature on this topic refers specifically to “young people”) and people with college degrees (to where to buy viagra online address the “brain drain” question). Coastal metros for this analysis are those top 50 metro areas that are located in a state that touches either the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. A full list of them can be viewed here

Let’s start with Cleveland. Between 2008 and 2010, more people left for the coasts each year on average than came, and the results are statistically significant (the thin bars on these charts represent the calculated 95% confidence interval). However, there’s no statistically significant difference between the number of young people and the number of degree holders who are in-movers and out-movers. Cleveland had the fewest number of migrants in either direction of the three Rust Belt metros in question.

Detroit is a different story. In all three categories there are more out-movers than in-movers. Consistent with most accounts of depopulation, more people are decamping from Detroit for the coasts than vice-versa.

(click to enlarge)

Pittsburgh is an interesting case because more people arrived from the coasts than left for them. However, when you filter it down by young people and degree holders, there’s no significant difference. What’s interesting about Pittsburgh is that what appears to be driving the first set of columns is that there are more pharmacy online kids (and presumably thus families) moving to the metro area than in

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Cleveland or Detroit.

(click to enlarge)

In the end, these graphics show something interesting; but I don’t think they’re consistent with the bold claims made in the Freshwater article. You could argue that the data is old, and that the shift didn’t start until 2011. Maybe that’s true, but we’ll have to wait to find out.

You could argue that Cleveland and Pittsburgh are actually in great shape if the number of young people and degree holders that are leaving are being replaced at essentially a 1-to-1 ratio. I really have no dog in this fight, I just want to numbers to back up the rhetoric. Anecdotal evidence only goes so far.

When thinking about in and out migration, I think it’s important to be cautious of the availability heuristic. When someone leaves a metro area, they usually do it quietly. They pack up, leave, and then people in that area rarely hear from them again. But when someone moves from another metro area, you hear about it all the time, because there are plenty of opportunities to hear about it. I suspect that people remember many more cases of people moving to their city than they remember cases of people leaving.

I’ll end by saying that I understand why people want to live in Rust Belt cities. For some, the low cost of living makes the quality of life unbeatable. That might not be true for me, or for others, but I wouldn’t question why someone would want to move there.


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