Flight of the Creative Class

Pittsburgh takes another bashing in Rich Florida's just-published follow-on to The Rise of the Creative Class: The Flight of the Creative Class. The basic theme is the same: On a global scale, economic prosperity is likely to follow cities and regions that are open to in-migration, and in-migration especially by educated, mobile, innovative individuals. As before, the book might be subtitled "Escape from Pittsburgh." Only this time, he wasn't trapped in Pittsburgh as he wrote it; now, the author can critique his former home from the comfort of Northern Virginia. At least he listened to his own message.

I've said before that I think that to the extent that Florida's thesis relies on the energy of the creative elite -- and don't miss that "to the extent" qualifier -- then it looks too narrowly at the problem, and it may confuse cause and effect. To the extent, though, that both books are associating economic growth with economic, social, and cultural openness, then Florida has a point, both in general, and about Pittsburgh -- even if the point isn't new, or sexy, or worth thousands of dollars in consulting and speaking fees.

In that regard, I thought that the best point in Dennis Roddy's Letter to the next Mayor was this one:
The messiest, and maybe the bravest, idea for growing a city is to crowd in the population first. Absent gigantic mills to absorb these folks, we need to grow the city one business at a time and that is the way immigration works.

You'll notice in any high-immigration population the number of restaurants, tailors, shoe repair shops and jewelry stores that spring up. That's because today's immigrants come with money or an idea to make some. And with population comes economic activity.

It's time for you and a number of other city mayors to lobby Washington for a free immigration zone. We already have free trade zones for international commerce. Why not similar ones for the people who create domestic trade? Those falling population numbers aren't symptoms of decline. They're the actual decline. We need warm bodies and this is a brave and crazy way to get them.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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