Friday, October 19, 2012

Finding the "Pittsburgh moment"

So a decade is a long time for sure.

Pittsburgh alumnus Richard Florida has some new quantification on all things creative.  In the Atlantic Cities is a summary of some recent work from his shop that is now showing Pittsburgh as #5 in a particular ranking of 'creative' contributions to the national economy.  So near the top? What a difference from just a few years earlier.

A decade ago the Creative Class meme emerged to a broader public with this piece in the Washington Monthly in May of 2002:  The Rise of the Creative Class; Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race.

Not a lot of positive Pittsburgh vibe at the time coming from the latter reference there.

So I dunno what it all means.   Has Pittsburgh really changed so much over the decade between the two references?  I am a mesofact kind of guy and really believe that the trends emerging later in the decade are culminations of things that were well in process long before.  I will entertain the possibility that I am wrong and there was some eureka moment for the region.  The question then becomes when was this singular moment diverting Pittsburgh from its dystopian path? 

Since most economic measures, or to be specific the population migration measures, turned positive for Pittsburgh at least as far back as 2007 we can narrow down the.time period 'new' Pittsburgh emerged.  Not much in the 2002 article indicated any change had yet even hinted at emerging here so it has to be after that.  Yes he hedges a bit on Pittsburgh's prognosisis near the end of the article for those who read that far, but you really sense that was just to mitigate how it would he taken among his still-colleagues and neighbors.  One quote early on is this:
" Yet Pittsburgh's economy continues to putter along in a middling flat-line pattern. Both the core city and the surrounding metropolitan area lost population in the 2000 census. And those bright young university people keep leaving. "
All the young people were leaving?  Beathe Briem...  breathe. (note date on that btw)  

OK..  back from breathing into the paper bag.   Again, when is the 'Pittsburgh moment'?  So somewhere between 2003 and 2006.  Let's parse a bit further.  Total net migration for the Pittsburgh region turned positive by 2007 onward, I would estimate that the net migration of those under age 60 (which is the defintion of 'young' in Pittsburgh right?) likely turned positive a year  earlier (and was pretty minimal for years before that).  So the big turnaround version means that somewhere between 2003 and 2005 something happened.  Something big.  We obviously didn't notice at the time, but it must be so important to the region that we must try to distill it and resell it.  Any ideas?

It all reminds me of this video which is painful to watch, but I get a bit more erudite-sounding near the end:


Blogger ing said...

well these moments are built on lots of somethings, not a single something. there were plenty of things that prepared the ground for pittsburgh's current moment, which i would argue is only a relative moment because so many other metros are faring poorly.

that being said i would guess it was PNC Bank getting in trouble with the feds and having to meet stricter standards as a result, that later prevented them from crashing out in 2008, that was the big something

Friday, October 19, 2012 9:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed with ing, it's really a lot of "big things".

PNC avoiding the brunt of the housing crash is definitely a big one.

Westinghouse locating to Cranberry and keeping their 6K employees certainly helped grow that area, regardless of what you may think of the sprawl-ishness of Cranberry/Warrendale.

CMU spinning out tech companies throughout the east end is also big. Hard to point to just one, but the sum of their parts is huge.

Friday, October 19, 2012 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Jim Russell said...

The successful assault on the PIT Fortress Hub, 2004.

Friday, October 19, 2012 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger JRoth said...

I chose to stay here in 1995 in large part because I felt that good things were happening in my field - architecture. Pittsburgh was and is a leading city for green building and brownfield reuse. By itself that's not much, but it ties in with a lot of the other things that define New Pittsburgh - the new economy beyond dot-coms and such (Glen Meachem is just a (rich) unemployed crank, but Red Whittaker keeps making new robots). I am, by nature, an optimist, but I saw a lot of positive things happening in the late '90s (which is part of what made Florida so annoying - at least wrt Pittsburgh, he was definitely a glass-half-empty guy).

I'd probably argue that the point when you could see change was coming was when some outside firm (Sun-something?) offered to reopen the Hazelwood Coke Works, and nobody really wanted it, despite the promise of jobs. We were done with the dream of Big Steel, and unwilling to trade health and the future for a short term bump in employment.

Friday, October 19, 2012 10:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome... Pittsburgh ranks right behind Creative Class mecca St. Louis!

Friday, October 19, 2012 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger joe said...

well, building on Monsieur Florida's thesis, I moved back here the summer of 2005. Just saying.

From State College, to be closer to a big airport (!)

But really, I say your model needs to go back awhile further, when the story of the new Pittsburgh was told over the course of one fine May morning.

The whole city was Breezin with George on the North Shore* and all the little creative 5 yr olds began to plan their moves here.

It was the Good Life with big 80's hair!

Our moment is forever Pittsburgh as seen from a seat on the 54c.

*was that broadcast is the earliest reference to the "North Shore" ?

Friday, October 19, 2012 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

A 23 year old elected to City Council District 1, obviously.

Friday, October 19, 2012 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I wish I had time to respond to each of those thoughts above which are all great.

but from the twittersphere:

Friday, October 19, 2012 12:38:00 PM  

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