Cycling in Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh

Fresh Water Cleveland is running a brilliant story (ha, I wrote it) about the differing bike cultures in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. This was inspired by a personal theory of mine that the health of cities can be measured by the number of miles of bike lanes it has and the number of blogs. Any social scientists want to take that on? (By my informal research, that makes Pittsburgh and St. Louis the healthiest Rust Belt cities.)

The Scene: A maze of decaying streets intermingled with dirt-tinged smokestacks and neglected church steeples.

The Action: A small knot of cyclists set off en masse from a Carnegie-built library in a formerly robust steel town.

Background: Cycling is still a fringe activity in this Rust Belt metropolis, wedged as it is between the trendier East and West coasts. But a small yet committed group of riders shrug off the incredulous stares. Some even commute to work, though few of their employers provide showers and lockers, much less secure bike parking. At least the local transit authority finally has installed bike racks.

Welcome to Pittsburgh circa 2003, when the Post-Gazette published the story “Can Pittsburgh Learn to Love Bikes?”

The cycling community in the Steel City was just beginning to coalesce, a full 13 years after Bicycling Magazine named it one of the country’s 10 worst cities for biking. That unappealing distinction inspired Pittsburgh leaders to reflect upon the few who traveled the burgh’s famous hills and bridges through the sheer force of their own power, leveraged by a simple, classic machine.

“A critical mass of bicyclists — activists or not — is one ingredient that Pittsburgh needs to become the kind of hip place that attracts talented young workers now and in the future,” the Post-Gazette posited almost prophetically in 2003, at a time when even many in the cycling community considered the city a dangerous place to ride.

Fast forward to present day and you’ll find a vastly different bike culture has taken flight. Pittsburgh recently won the honor of being named a Bronze-level “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists, putting them on par with regional leaders like Columbus and Indianapolis. With support of its mayor, Pittsburgh is aiming even higher, hoping to join cities like Denver, Austin and Minneapolis in the Silver class.

Read the full article at Fresh Water Cleveland


Filed under Good Ideas, Headline, Public Transportation

Fed Research Shows Positive Trend for Pittsburgh

This post was written by contributor Lewis Lehe. -KG

Stephan Whitaker, a research economist at the Cleveland Fed, has noticed two salubrious trends in RustBelt demographics:

1) between 2000 and 2008, college graduates rose sharply as a share of the work-force in several urban areas

2) in the future, the graduate share will keep rising as older, less-educated workers retire

This news is good taken at face value, because research by Ed Glaeser and other urban economists suggests cities thrive as idea-generating centers. When educated people interact face-to-face, they breed businesses and insights.

Educational Attainment of Working-age Adults in Fourth District Metro Areas

Working-age adults (2008) Degree share 2000 (percent) Degree share 2008 (percent) Change (percent)
Erie 151,718 22.5 28.2 5.6
Akron 386,990 26.1 31.6 5.4
Pittsburgh 1,235,251 28.1 32.7 4.6
Columbus 896,440 32.3 36.9 4.5
Lexington-Fayette 161,486 37.1 41.5 4.4
Mansfield 67,839 13.1 17.4 4.3
Youngstown-Warren 306,892 17.5 21.7 4.2
Cleveland 1,223,369 26.0 29.2 3.2
Cincinnati 863,150 28.6 31.7 3.1
United States 167,282,883 26.5 29.6 3.1
Canton 226,427 19.1 20.8 1.8
Lima 80,257 14.9 16.6 1.7
Hamilton-Middleton 195,416 25.9 27.4 1.5
Dayton-Springfield 508,775 24.4 25.8 1.3
Toledoa 419,227 21.6 22.9 1.3

Things I thought were interesting

Whitaker finds that Pittsburgh stands out in both trends, because we are gaining lots of graduates (mainly PA locals and international immigrants) and because our older workers are very uneducated—probably because they grew up in a city with steel mills. He speculates: “If the highly educated cohorts in Pittsburgh continue to phase in, the city will eventually have a workforce like a university town rather than a former industrial center.”

I also did my own comparison and found that the number of college-grad immigrants Pittsburgh gained exceeds the entire population of Bloomfield. I think this is a good thought comparison because Bloomfield itself is split between young college grads and old people. Here is a picture I took in Bloomfield that captures the tension:

These trends indicate Pittsburgh will probably become a better place for people like me to live. More college graduates will produce wider cultural variety, more startups, and less-corrupt politicians.  I’m excited about that, but I believe there’s another side to this coin: Pittsburgh’s graduate share will rise in part because it is not a good place for working-class men and women to move. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you take the whole universe into account, though. After all, in order for some places to be good at attracting working class men and women, other places have to be good at losing them (or at least not gaining them). But it’s worth keeping in mind.

In contrast, I thought this was worth highlighting: “Columbus and Cincinnati both experienced large increases in their populations of unskilled immigrants. In Columbus, the nondegreed immigrant adult population increased from just under 30,000 to over 46,000, and the equivalent population in Cincinnati increased from 19,700 to 29,600.”

Since unskilled immigrants are the working class of the working class, I say hats off to Columbus and Cincinnati for providing an attractive place for these families to live. Doubly so for Columbus as it is also a highly-educated city.

-Lewis Lehe


Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Education, Headline, regionalism

David Simon’s “Argument for the City”

I know this isn’t strictly Rust Belt-related, but I’m sure many readers of this site are fans of The Wire as much as I am.

So here’s a link to an excerpt of an interview creator David Simon did with The Progressive magazine. The entire piece is not available online, only in the print version of the magazine.

I think my favorite part is when Simon says:

“This show, if we do it right, is an argument for the city. For the idea of American urbanity, for the melting pot, for the idea that our future can’t be separated from the fact that we are all going to be increasingly compacted into urban areas, though we’re different in race and culture and religion. And what we make of that will determine the American future.

I listened during the last election cycle to the rhetoric about small town values and where the real Americans live. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve never heard such bullshit in my life.’ Rural America’s not coming back. That idea was lost with the Industrial Revolution. And yet with more than 80 percent of Americans living in metropolitan areas, there are still demagogues who want to run down the idea of multiculturalism, of urbanity, being the only future we have. We either live or die based on how we live in cities, and our society is either going to be great or not based on how we perform as creatures of the city.”



Filed under Editorial, Good Ideas, Politics, The Media

Race in the Branding of Rust Belt Chic

There’s an attraction in the post-glut ethos to an emerging Rust Belt Chic brand. Recently I wrote about cities capitalizing on this attraction by embracing grit-chic as an opportunity to develop by just being what they are: hard-working, resilient, steel- and stone-bodied, frontier-like in their decay, etc. In thinking of what Cleveland is, here is what I wrote:

Cleveland—it is a lot. It’s part Napoleon Dynamite: alienated, quirky, but with a spine of cut-through-the-bullshit intrigue. It is lunch pails and bridges, iron and stone, yet a place of poetics formed from a pensiveness borne from its afterthought status. Cleveland is hard and soft, then: knuckles and tits—and this is perhaps most embodied in its music as hybrid polka-rock DJs share the same city air that catches the sounds of the Cleveland Orchestra. Cleveland is wandering. Cleveland is finding when it’s not blinded by what it’s looking for. Cleveland is the nostalgic comfort that is hearing the night train. Cleveland is Joan Jett in the Light of Day.

For me, a lifelong Near West Sider, this was my take on Cleveland’s version of Rust Belt Chic. Then a commenter opined. Using the name “East Side”, this is what the individual wrote:

Cleveland is Marcus Garvey; Cleveland is Chester Himes; Cleveland is Carl Stokes; Cleveland is a black face with a black fist. Cleveland is a place of amazing black jazz and vibrant hip hop. Cleveland is the Bone Thugs spitting rhymes about life on these streets. Cleveland will be reborn when our brothers and sisters have a truly equal chance at making our stamp.

After reading East Side’s comment, I noticed how different we had imaged the same city, a difference perhaps reflected by the extent our city has been sliced by race. And though lately this has changed—with the black population migrating into the city’s West Side and into certain inner ring suburbs of the East, the fact remains that Cleveland still operates like a body with two heads that have lived different lives.

My next thought was: to what extent is black culture representative of Rust Belt Chic? This is important on a number of levels, for if the grit-chic brand is (or is destined to become) heavily white and hipster—or white and Springsteen-like—or white and ethic, then what is occurring is an economic development strategy catering to part of a city’s flavor, which only serves to reinforce said segregation that so often kills any chance of agglomerating a mass of dynamic thought.

The pillars of Rust Belt Chic: unscrubbed, and culturally ubiquitous

Examining to what extent the black experience is threaded into the brand of grit-chic, it’s necessary to get a feel for what it is. Blogger and geographer Jim Russell—an extensive thinker on the concept—describes the core of Rust Belt Chic as “the possibility of the urban frontier”. Of course this frontier is more post-modern than pre-, and so the realities of the landscape must enter into the brand’s fray: ruins—shuttered entries and openings where they weren’t designed to be—alienated spaces between old forms. Visually, the Rust Belt city is thus the morning body in the bathroom light, eliciting notions of the pre-cosmetic—the stripped down, the authentic. And as is the case with age lines, the “as is” state in the brand is but a leading tip of the past up to that point, making lineage and identity central also. And of course the simple fact of getting up, preparing, and entering into a city of consequences…well, you get the drift.

The above could be described as the unscrubbed building blocks of the brand, with the attributes being found in all cultures within the Rust Belt. Pushing further, if we take the urban frontier as the starting point, you could argue that the seed of grit-chic is in those most system-busted spaces of our cities which—more often than not—are heavily black. And so it is perhaps here that what has hence been called “chic” is more necessary than it is messaged out as a manner to capture the minds of the country’s dreamers.

Some examples of necessity grit-chic from black creators are many, and they need not be listed ad nausea. But the video below shows one of my favorites from Flint. It mixes karate, urban ag, and rap. And then there’s Bourdain’s visit to the Roost in Baltimore. It’s a little piece on lineage, sustenance, and hunger, all with a rust flavor. And finally, there’s this from detroitblog about homesteading in East Detroit (via Urbanophile).

Bling vs. rust

Of course the difficulties and potential divergences of any cultural brand arise when this brand is being refined and messaged for economic gain. The refinement of hip hop not only provides lessons for the branding of Rust Belt Chic, but the effects of its commercialization can be viewed as being at cross purposes to the pillars of Rust Belt culture. This in turn could lead to “whiteification” of the brand, thus ending its chances at coalescing a regional identity across racial divides.

Hip hop is more than rap, but culture. And it caught fire in part because it represented a creative reworking of a reality that was once only discussed in terms of what the hell was wrong. This goes on today when urbanists lament the diseases of the incredible shrinking city.

The state of hip hop today is mixed. Some in the industry say the gross commercialization robbed it of its essence. Greg Tate writes:

Given that what we call hiphop is now inseparable from what we call the hip hop industry, in which the nouveau riche and the super-rich employers get richer, some say there’s really nothing to celebrate about hip hop right now but the moneyshakers and the moneymakers—who got bank and who got more.

Conversely, some think any bastardization of hip hop’s authenticity is overshadowed by the extent of its global scale:

50 Cent is one of the biggest stars in the world, from Kingston to Capetown, and whether or not you like 50 is irrelevant; he’s a mythic figure who has attained a cultural relevance so massive that it is hard to comprehend from our perspective. Rap’s cultural capital is larger than ever before. A mixed blessing, because in the United States, and many other countries, cultural capital doesn’t translate into social justice, economic justice or any kind of justice—it’s just another opportunity.

Regardless of who’s right, hip hop’s meme of becoming something outside of inner-city poverty has captivated a generation of youth, both black and non-black. And it’s not hard to see why. Because with global comes the obvious: way beyond the mere local, which in the realm of becoming means more fame and more money. This is a pretty powerful message when its laid at your damn feet, or even when it’s not: just thinking the thought, of going global. That said, mass fame vs. the pillars of grit-chic—it’s definitely and underdog fight and Cleveland isn’t A. Creed.

Of course Exhibit A of this is the Decision. LeBron James, a self-professed Akron honk who grew up in the real of it—he made it known he got the meme long ago. Himself a Yankees and a Cowboys fan, James said he was going to “light Cleveland up like Vegas”, and that his goal in life was to be “a global icon”. Of course the irony here was that his global reach was set up by his brand as a local in a region where locality still meant something. And perhaps the country—more than anything—appreciated him for that. Yet it’s also a country of “Go West, young man” in which the brand of authenticity must be grown into something greater than an idea of simple, broken, and resilient beginnings. Because of course: the Rust Belt is shit and dead, while the real frontier is near the sands edging the edgy night clubs. So said Richard Florida in his reaction to why LeBron left:

But real entrepreneurs—those who want to build something new—sometimes pick “frontier locations,” places where they can mold the environment to help them reach their desired goals…Perhaps this is what Miami had to offer the Three Kings. The place is diverse enough, open-minded enough, free-wheeling enough, and hungry enough that they can make their own rules.

Rust Belt Chic and hip hop: brothers from another mother?

While this is one line of thinking—i.e., that the hip hop meme clashes with the pillars of grit-chic thus imbuing the latter with a brand that is more Pabst and pirogies than it needs to be—there remains the possibility of an another line of thinking as well. This line of thinking goes that the 50 cent(s) and LeBron(s) and Richard Florida(s) of the world are on the cusp of a trajectory that is a twilight of today, and that the Rust Belt was so yesterday that it’s approaching the cusp of a new tomorrow. Going further, this post-glut ethos that has given rise to Rust Belt Chic is bubbling up in existing cultural brands, hip hop being one of them. And when paired–the aesthetic of rust with the sounds of stripped rap–it’s like a spoon full of meat to the country’s consciousness after a diet on eye candy. The Chevy ad is a perfect example of this. So was the movie 8 mile.  And then here, in Cleveland.

Come to think of it, in many respects the pillars of grit-chic are the pillars of hip hop: resilient; imaged in the boarded yet stoic building standing before the backdrop of your city’s skyline; locally flavored; creatively reworked so that another’s understanding of failure is your awareness that the truth is more complicated; and perhaps most importantly: a brand that has arrived out of the lived as opposed to being manufactured for the living.

That said, in developing the brand the purveyors of grit-chic should learn from hip hop’s evolution so as to not diverge from the principles it had evolved from. Part of doing this is to fight the temptation to use Rust Belt Chic to become the reflection of another city’s success.  In fact grit-chic is less about becoming than it is keeping on in the face of consequences.

–Richey Piiparinen

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Cleveland SGS

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Filed under Headline, Race Relations

The Woodward Project — A New Model for Detroit

Andrew Basile, writer of the infamous Detroit sprawl letter, shared this video he has been working on with us. It outlines how car culture destroyed Detroit and how the Woodward Corridor presents an opportunity for revitalization.

What an inspiring guy. Kudos to Mr. Basile for fighting the good fight and not “silently surrendering,” like so many other businesses.

Detroit’s Woodward Avenue:

Before:                                                                                    After:



Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, Public Transportation, sprawl

Legoman Rap Video on Detroit’s Woodward Light Rail

Ha. Nuff said.

Joel Batterman of Transport Michigan, maker of this video, is one of the smartest and most creative voices in the region, in my opinion.


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Filed under Featured, Public Transportation

Michigan CEO: Soul-Crushing Sprawl Killing Business

This is the full text of a letter from a business owner on why he might need to leave Michigan. This guy NAILED it, what we have been trying to express on this blog about sprawl and economic vitality. This is what the leadership in Cleveland doesn’t seem to get. Thank you, Andrew Basile!

From: Andrew Basile, Jr
Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 12:16 PM
Subject: Why our growing firm may have to leave Michigan.


I hope you find this essay of interest/value. It’s probably something
you’ve heard a million times but I thought I ought to at least try to
vocalize it rather than silently surrender.

We have a patent law firm in Troy. In 2006, our firm’s legacy domestic
automotive business collapsed. We rebuilt our practice with out-of-state
clients in a range of industries, including clients like Google, Nissan and
Abbott Labs, located in the US, Japan, Europe and China.

Today, we have 40 highly-paid employees and much of our work now
comes from out of state. This makes us a service exporter. We are very
proud of the contribution our firm makes to the local economy. We also
created a not-for-profit incubator using excess space in our office. The
incubator is home to 4 start-ups, all of which are generating revenue and
two of which have started employing people. This is something we do
without charge as a charity to help the state.

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem. It’s not taxes or
regulations. There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no
impact on our business. We spend more on copiers and toner than we do
on state taxes.

Our problem is access to talent. We have high-paying positions open for
patent attorneys in the software and semiconductor space. Even though
it is one of the best hiring environments for IP firms in 40 years, we
cannot fill these positions. Most qualified candidates live out of state
and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate
to other cities. Our recruiters are very blunt. They say it is almost
impossible to recruit to Michigan without paying big premiums above
competitive salaries on the coasts.

It’s nearly a certainty that we will have to relocate (or at a minimum
expand ) our business out of Michigan if we want to grow.
People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to
live here. For example, below are charts of migration patterns based on
IRS data Black is inbound, red is outbound. Even though the CA
economy is in very bad shape, there is still a mass migration to San
Francisco vs. mass outbound migration from Oakland County (most
notably to cities like SF, LA, Dallas, Atlanta, NY, DC, Boston, and
Philly) San Fran only seems to be losing people to Portland, a place
with even more open space and higher quality urban environments.

The situation for Michigan is even worse than it seems because those
lines are net migration. You can click on the links and see the composite
of outbound and inbound. I went through many links, and in most cases,
the average income of the outbound from Oakland County is high (e.g.
$60K, and the average income of the inbound is low (e.g. $30K).

Recession or no, isn’t it screamingly obvious that people with choices in
life – i.e. people with money and education – choose not to live here?
We are becoming a place where people without resources are grudgingly
forced to live. A place without youth, prospects, respect, money or

There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an
unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because
it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some
might call this poor “quality of life.”
A better term might be poor
“quality of place.” In Metro Detroit, we have built a very bad physical
place. We don’t have charming, vibrant cities and we don’t have open
space. What we do have are several thousand of miles of streets that
look like this:

Having moved here from California five years ago, I will testify that
Metro Detroit is a very hard place to live. Ask any former Detroiter in
California, and you will hear a consistent recital of the flaws that make
Metro Detroit so unattractive. Things are spread too far apart. You have
to drive everywhere. There’s no mass transit. There are no viable cities.
Lots of it is really ugly, especially the mile after mile of sterile and often
dingy suburban strip shopping and utility wires that line our dilapidated
roads (note above). There’s no nearby open space for most people
(living in Birmingham, it’s 45 minutes in traffic to places like Proud
Lake or Kensington). It’s impossible to get around by bike without
taking your life in your hands. Most people lead sedentary lifestyles.
There’s a grating “car culture” that is really off-putting to many people
from outside of Michigan. I heard these same complaints when I left
25 years ago. In a quarter century, things have only gotten considerably

Ironically, California is supposed to be a sprawling place. In my
experience they are pikers compared to us. Did you know that Metro
Detroit is one half the density of Los Angeles County?

The fundamental problem it seems to me is that our region as gone
berserk on suburbia to the expense of having any type of nearby open
space or viable urban communities, which are the two primary spatial
assets that attract and retain the best human capital.
For example, I
noted sadly the other day that the entire Oakland Country government
complex was built in a field 5 miles outside of downtown Pontiac. I find
that decision shocking. What a wasted opportunity for maintaining a
viable downtown Pontiac, not to mention the open space now consumed
by the existing complex. What possibly could have been going through
their minds? Happily, most of the men who made those foolish
decisions 30 or 40 years ago are no longer in policy-making roles. A
younger generation needs to recognize the immense folly that they
perpetrated and begin the costly, decades long task of cleaning up the

These are problems, sure, but they could be easily overcome, especially
in Oakland County which is widely recognized as one of the best-run
large counties in the country. But despite our talents and resources, the
region’s problem of place may be intractable for one simple, sorry
reason: our political and business leadership does not view poor quality
of place as a problem and certainly lacks motivation to address the issue.
Indeed, Brooks Patterson — an otherwise extraordinary leader — claims
to love sprawl and says Oakland Country can’t get enough of it. These
leaders presume that the region has “great” quality of life (apparently
defined as big yards, cull de sacs and a nearby Home Depot). In their
minds, we just need to reopen a few more factories and all will be
well. The cherished corollary to this is that Michigan and Metro Detroit
have an “image” problem and that if only people knew great things were
they would consider living or investing here.
The attitude of many in
our region is that our problems are confined to Detroit city while the
suburbs are thought to be lovely.

We don’t have a perception problem, we have a reality problem. Most
young, highly talented knowledge workers from places like Seattle or
San Francisco or Chicago find the even the upper end suburbs of
Metro Detroit to be unappealing. I think long term residents including
many leaders are simply so used to the dreary physical environment of
Southeast Michigan that it has come to seem normal, comfortable and
maybe even attractive. Which is fine so long as we have no aspiration to
attract talent and capital from outside our region.

My fears were confirmed when I began trying to gather local economic
development literature to use as a recruiting tool. The deficits which so
dog our region are sometimes heralded by this literature as assets. For
example, some boosters trumpet our “unrivaled” freeway system as if
freeways and sprawl they engender are “quality of life” assets. In San
Francisco, the place sucking up all the talent and money, they have
removed — literally torn out of the ground — two freeways because
people prefer not to have them. I noted one “Quality of Life” page of a
Detroit area economic development website featured a prominent picture
of an enclosed regional shopping mall! Yuck. It’s theater of the absurd.

The people who put together that website must live in a different cultural
universe from the high income/high education people streaming out of
Michigan for New York, Chicago, and California.
Not only is there no
plan to address these issues, I fear that the public and their elected
leaders in Michigan don’t even recognize the problem or want change.

We have at least one bright spot in the nascent urban corridor between
Pontiac, and Ferndale, which is slowly building a critical mass of
walkable urban assets. At the same time, there’s no coordinated effort to
develop this. Indeed, MDOT officials lie awake at night thinking of
ways to thwart the efforts of local communities along Woodward to
become more walkable. Another symptom the region’s peculiar and
self-destructive adoration of the automobile. Even though the Big
Three are a tiny shadow of their former selves, Michigan is still locked
in the iron grip of their toxic cultural legacy.

I’d like to hang on another five years. I feel like we’re making a
difference. But by the same token, I don’t see any forward progress or
even an meaningful attempt at forward progress. It’s almost like the
people running things are profoundly disconnected from the reality that
many if not most talented knowledge workers find our region’s
paradigm of extreme suburbanization to be highly unattractive. It seems
to me that we are halfway through a 100 year death spiral in which the
forces in support of the status quo become relatively stronger as people
with vision and ambition just give up and leave. As we descend this
death spiral, we must in my mind be approaching the point of no return,
where the constituency for reform dwindles below a critical threshold
and the region’s path of self destruction becomes unalterable.

Thank you for considering my views. I welcome any opportunity to be
of help to any efforts you may have to fix this.

Andrew Basile, Jr.

Andrew R. Basile, Jr.
Young Basile Hanlon & MacFarlane, P.C.
228 Hamilton Avenue, Suite 300
Palo Alto, California 94301

Offices also in Troy and Ann Arbor Michigan


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