Monday, August 06, 2007

Diverse Pittsburgh

Over on Pittsblog, Mike M. commented that Pittsburgh remains one of the few markets in the country that lacks a Univision (something which probably only needs to be explained in Pittsburgh: it is the preeminent Spanish language television network in the US) outlet here in town. In that thread a commenter asked me whether in fact Hindi may be a more commonly spoken language here in Pittsburgh. I suppose I could look that up, but even symbolically there is a point there. Pittsburgh (the region I should be clear.. not the City) has had one of the lowest percentages of non-English speakers compared to other metro regions for decades. As for Hindi being higher than Spanish, I suspect it could have been true a decade or so ago more than now quite honestly. The largest immigrant group in Pittsburgh in the 1990's was Asian, which was mostly the result of Indian immigration.. unlike almost anywhere else in America where Latino immigration was by far the largest group. Go back farther in time and I bet Pittsburgh had proportionally more Magyar or Yiddish spoken here than elsewhere.

but for those who really want an answer to that, I'd consult the Modern Language Associations Language Map of the US which is pretty cool. I pulled up Allegheny County and its not really close, 15K Spanish speakers compared to under 2K Hindi speakers fwiw.

More generally on diversity in Pittsburgh, I really do get at least a question a week from someone out there about low immigration to Pittsburgh. Years ago a journalist from New York City was incredulous and actually asked me seriously: "but then who drives the taxis?". Every other week someone will try and argue with me that Pittsburgh in just recent years has become a mecca of immigrants. It is something I don't actually dispute despite some misconceptions. Yes I know there are more immigrants here now than in the past, many more in fact. I used to say in the 1990's that Pittsburgh could double the flow of immigrants into the region and we still would rank last by most metrics on the subject. I would guess that is about what has happened, i.e. that the flow of immigrants has doubled from the last decade. Doubling any demographic flow certainly gives a strong appearance of things changing. There are immigrants arriving where there were just none in the past. Yet it is hard to dispute that we still rank last by any comparative metric in terms of immigrant flow by region. There is no inconsistency between an observation that there are many more immigrants here in the past and that we still are pretty much last compared to anywhere else. Put another way: if Pittsburgh was attracting even a fraction of the new immigrants that are much more in play elsewhere in the US (or even elsewhere in Pennsylvania), would local school districts see their enrollments dropping year over year.

Which all gets to the current buzz over what diversity actually means for a community. The International Herald Tribune has an article: The Downside of Diversity, about research by Harvards's Robert Putnam that shows civic participation decreases with the diversity level of a community. What it all means I will leave to others to try and figure out. Just a few commenters out there on this include SocialCapital, Matt Kahn, and even Brewed Fresh Daily.

Beyond those immediate comments, on diversity in Pittsburgh I have in the past recommended this paper Intercultural City, which looked at diversity issues in Pittsburgh compared to a few other regions. The author Gregg Zachary has a longer book from a few years ago: The Global Me: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge - Picking Globalism's Winners and Losers , that is worth a read if you are interested in this topic.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got at least a partial solution to the taxi and immigration problem in Pittsburgh: deregulate the taxi industry. Set minimum safety standards (twice a year inspections at certified shops), a set fare from the airport, and then let the market have at it. Why something so obvious and simple can't get done is simply beyond me . . .

Tuesday, August 07, 2007 9:33:00 AM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

Working in Oakland sure skews your view. From my perspective, there are plenty of immigrants around. You can’t help but think that.

So, what's the housing situation look like. Are there lots of vacant houses, just falling apart? If so, are they geographically spread out, or centralized in a few neighborhoods. When the city bought back the liens, how many were there? And how many have been assumed by neighborhood development groups? I say all this because one way of retaining or attracting new people might be to offer them low cost housing, assuming there is some available. The way I simplistically understand the great exodus 2000-2006, only slightly less than those washed away in New Orleans by Katrina (I said simplistically), is that it is maybe evenly split between people of all ages leaving, and the elderly dying. So if we do start to replace population, our demographic should start to get less skewed towards the elderly.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007 12:39:00 PM  

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