Tag Archives: Brain Drain

New Urban Ideal: Young, Progressive and White?

Portland. Seattle. Minneapolis. Besides being magnets for well-educated young people, what do these cities have in common?

According to Aaron Renn, creator of the Urbanophile blog, they all have a relatively low proportion of black people.

In an article published on New Geography, Renn asks, is the trend towards cities like Portland a form of nationwide suburban sprawl?

A city scene in Portland. No black people to be found.

A city scene in Portland.

Is it only a coincidence that cities with a high proportion of black residents are so often the most maligned, like Detroit, Cleveland and Youngstown?

If you’ve ever read the Urbanophile (and if you haven’t, you should), you’ll notice that Aaron is a great creator of charts.

He has developed some pretty convincing data to back up his argument.


Portland and Seattle: 6% black. Austin: 8%. Denver: 10%.

I think Aaron has a point and this is an issue that doesn’t get the play it deserves in most of our discussions. Because racial issues and racial tensions shape our cities and our country profoundly, though not as overtly as they once did. This is especially true in the industrial Midwest.

On the other hand, there are some notable exceptions to Aaron’s rule. Atlanta, for one. New York and Chicago for another.

While I think Aaron has a point, I think the socioeconomic vestiges of a pattern of discrimination in housing, finance and education may be influencing residential decisions more than race at this point, or at least playing an increasingly strong role. The history of racial turmoil in Cleveland and Detroit and Chicago are still very ingrained in the cultural consciousness. In these cities, and the two events that had the greatest impact were the race riots and forced school integration, or busing.

Older generations in Cleveland are still programmed to the “us vs. them” turf battles between ethnic groups and blacks that played out the cities neighborhoods in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Last week, a professor of mine mentioned that his friend still refuses to drive through the Hough neighborhood, where riots took place in the ’70s, out of fear. My 47-year-old mother, a Toledo native, recently told me that every time she hears about Detroit, she thinks about the riots and how scary a place it’s always seemed.

Meanwhile a discriminatory education system continues to drive middle-class families out of the central city of Cleveland. Ohio’s Supreme Court has rules the state’s education funding system unconstitutional four times and still no relief for inner-city families.

So what’s the difference between Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago and New York? Well, not nearly as much as now until the ’90s when Chicago and New York began pushing minorities to the periphery, while in Cleveland and Detroit, whites continued their migration outward. While there is some concern about “rings of poverty” and endemic violence on Chicago’s South Side, studies have shown that cities where wealth trended inward perform better economically than where wealth flowed outward.

That said, I certainly wouldn’t call Chicago a model for racial integration.

Anyway it’s an interesting article and Aaron brings up a good point. I think these issues are very complicated, however. Everyone wants to be the journalist that pinpoints exactly what’s wrong with Detroit or Cleveland, when the truth is, cities are very dynamic places with a multitude of different forces at play.

Any input?

St. Louis? Youngstown? Memphis? Camden?



Filed under Featured, Race Relations

The Economist: Youngstown, A Young Town Again

The Economist Magazine is running a cautiously optimistic story about the future of Youngstown, paying tribute to recent downtown developments and the success of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

“Youngstown’s problems have been manifold,” The magazine writes. “But now there are a few signs that things are starting to improve.”

“One example is the Youngstown Business Incubator, which provides cheap office space and other assistance to start-ups that specialize in business software.

“Founded using government seed money 14 years ago in a part of downtown where few dared to venture, let alone start a business, it is now thriving. Its star pupil, with nearly 200 employees, is Turning Technologies, which has outgrown its original space and been forced to move to a separate building nearby.”

The Youngstown 2010 plan is mentioned, although the magazine concedes it may not work.

Then this: “On Friday and Saturday nights, twenty-somethings spill out onto the pavements. Now all Youngstown has to do is keep them.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Featured, The Big Urban Photography Project, The Media

Bringing Good Ideas Home to Buffalo

This article was contributed by Katherine Reedy, a Buffalo native. She graduated in May from Columbia (undergrad) and lives in New York.


A common refrain heard in Buffalo, and much of the Rust Belt, is that you can’t appreciate the place until you’ve left it.

A crop of young Buffalonians have put this idea into practice in the past several years by combining an appreciation for their hometown with the innovative resources and ideas they’ve gained through education and experiences in the world outside the Queen City.

Megan McNally, a senior at Barnard College in New York, used a megan-mcnally-june-2009school grant to purchase a home (pictured above) on Buffalo’s blighted West Side. Picking up renovation tips from the non-profit Buffalo ReUse (and some construction workers she befriended), McNally is remaking the house into a community center. Whitney Yax, an ’09 graduate of Columbia, joins her on the project. They’ve already been featured in Dwell magazine, and Megan blogs about her project at Buffalo Basics.

Erin Hheaneyeaney is drawing on her experiences organizing student activists at Swarthmore College to organize local residents against Tonawanda Coke, a major regional polluter in an area long plagued by environmental hazards. (Remember Love Canal?) Buffalo residents recognize the plant by the distinct stench it wafts over Grand Island in the Niagara River, and few were surprised to learn this summer that it emits dangerous levels of the carcinogen benzene. At just 22, Heaney is the executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

aaronbartley4inFinally, Aaron Bartley is using his law degree from Harvard–where he was involved in labor organizing–to spearhead the non-profit People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH), which helps low-income Buffalo citizens find affordable housing. PUSH recently threw its third annual fundraiser “Buffalo Takes Manhattan” in September, drawing nearly 300 Buffalo supporters to SEIU headquarters in NYC for pizza, wings, beer, a speech by the esteemed A.R. Gurney, and much dancing to Rick James.

In a city that came late to discussions of sustainability, public accessibility, and centralized planning, the fresh ideas of Buffalo’s young activists are truly breaking ground. Hopefully, it will be their dedication and appreciation that clears the stale air of their hometown.

(Picture credits: Buffalo ReUse, Artvoice, and VOICE-Buffalo.)


Filed under Brain Drain, Featured, Good Ideas, Real Estate

Moving Back to Detroit

NPR ran a great piece yesterday about young people moving back to Detroit during this time of unparalled economic turmoil.

The story follows a Chicago banker who, lured by cheap real-estate, moved back, bought a building and opened a restaurant.

Also featured is a Cincinnati music producer who moved to Detroit because he always wanted his own studio and in Detroit the price was right.

Last is a Detroit-born lawyer who returned from New Jersey because he wanted to be part of the city’s revitalization.

This story made me cry. I wish everyone who has moved back to Detroit luck.


Filed under Brain Drain, U.S. Auto Industry

Why Don’t Ohio’s College Grads Want to Stay?

A new report (pdf), as reported by a number of Ohio’s news sources, predicts a depressing future for Ohio’s ability to attract and retain young people.

The worse news is that its not just out-of-state students who are down on the buckeye state; the report finds that 51% of Ohio natives don’t want to stay. Having spent the past four years as an undergraduate student at two of Northeast Ohio’s universities, I can honestly testify that these numbers seem quite reasonable and realistic.


Some people are questioning the survey’s methodology and suggesting that it only includes a biased sample from the state’s “elite universities”; even so, I don’t completely know that it negates the conclusion. It’s true that locals have a lot invested in Ohio, but I’m starting to fear that many are falling victim to the confirmation bias. If we can’t acknowledge that we have a problem, then it becomes that much more difficult to solve; and when it comes to brain drain, Ohio has a very serious problem.

When I ask Cleveland’s local leadership what it would take to keep people like me around, I typically get two answers:

1. If Cleveland had jobs to offer, the city would be teaming with young people. This makes sense. Most surveys indicate that careers are extremely important to young people, but I’m not sure it’s so simple. A city that has jobs to offer is good; a city that has more jobs to offer and other attractive qualities is better. Plus, it seems like college grads are moving to certain cities with high unemployment rates in spite of jobs being few and far between. Conor Dougherty’s piece in the Wall Street Journal describes an important phenomenon that can easily go overlooked: cities with high unemployment aren’t necessarily deterring college grads. Despite some of the worst unemployment rates around, young people are flooding into cities like Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon using the logic, “if I’m going to be unemployed, I might as well live in a place where I want to be.” Say what you want about these cities, call them pretentious yuppie magnets, talk about how we don’t want Ohio’s cities to become like them, or whatever else. It’s hard to deny that these cities aren’t doing something right. And when the economy turns, they will be in an excellent position to take advantage of all the talent they are attracting.

2. Wait until you have two kids and a mortgage, and then you’ll see how great Cleveland is. Perhaps young people aren’t in a position to value some of Cleveland’s best assets: the dirt-cheap cost of living and the number of respectable suburban school districts. Even so, to expect everyone who moves away after college to admit their error and come running back feels like a strategy doomed to fail. Sure, we all know someone who moved to Boston or Chicago or New York City after college and hated everything about it, or someone who came to school here and fell in love with the city. The selection bias makes it easy to think that there are a lot more people who move away and come back than there probably are. Once people invest in a career, meet new friends, and get married in another place, luring them back is probably more difficult than cheap housing and a plethora of suburbs.

It’s comforting to believe there is one answer, a silver bullet that will solve Ohio’s brain drain problem. Yes, more local internships would be great, as would a downtown that is lively at all hours of the day and housing that an entry-level professional can afford. Different people value different aspects of cities, which makes the whole challenge of determining attracting young people that much more difficult. After all, nearly half of Ohio’s graduates plan to stay, so the situation isn’t completely hopeless.

Richard Florida and his research teams have done some interesting work on this question. One thing that strikes me about the research is its focus on something that is otherwise difficult to measure: vibrancy of social networks. When your friends are moving away or plan to skip town after college, that’s an important selling point that a city loses. Not that making new friends isn’t possible, but when faced with that proposition, it’s easy to think, “if I have to make new friends, I might as well do it in a place I really want to be.”

Rob Pitingolo


Filed under Brain Drain, Featured

Could it be True? Pittsburgh Importing Californians

   I can hardly believe it, but the Pittsburgh Post Gazette says it’s true. Between 2000 and 2006, the city of Pittsburgh imported  2,300 Californians for a net gain of 100 more residents than lost to the sunny state.


   This article says that people are growing weary of higher-cost mega-cities like Boston, Washington and Los Angeles. They’ve got to go somewhere, The P-G opines. It might as well be the Rust Belt.

   The Rust Belt is American’s next frontier, the article says. It’s a bold statement, but I guess I kind of agree. People will vote with their feet.

1 Comment

Filed under Featured, Headline

Detroiters in Their own Words: I Will Stay If …


Model D Media has a great video featuring attendees of Great Lakes Urban Exchange’s “I Will Stay If …” campaign kick-off party May 14. GLUE will be traveling to different cities around the Rust Belt encouraging young people to share their hopes for their city.

Check out these photos.




See more pictures at GLUE’s Web site.

1 Comment

Filed under Good Ideas, Headline