Chicago vs. Pittsburgh: Conclusion

Tonight's post is the last of three in a blogging debate, in which Jim Russell of The Burgh Diaspora, who guest posted at Where last month, and I will discuss the relationship between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and which city relies more heavily on the other.

After Monday and Tuesday's conversation between Where and The Burgh Diaspora, Richard Florida became an impromptu (but welcome) third party to the debate; responding to my conjecture from yesterday and Dr. Florida's musings on Chicago's inherent geographical disadvantages in the globalized marketplace, Jim Russell came up with the following nugget of vocabularial wonder:

"Pittsburgh's bet on Chicago might be a bad one. The network economy springing from the migration of human capital could result in a cul-de-sac for global connectivity...both cities should seek to diversify their connectivity portfolios. No city is a standalone cash cow. Chicago is not a world onto Pittsburgh, nor should it be." (Emphasis added)

Tonight, we wrap up the "blog duel" with some conclusions; what have we learned from this exchange?

The concept of the "cul-de-sac for global connectivity" strikes me as a key takeaway here. The world has always, to some extent, operated regionally. The size of the regions that we are expected to follow and respond to has changed dramatically over the course of human history; where mankind's regional interests were once tied directly to the changing seasons and animal migration patterns, we now take in news at all times from across the globe. We belong to multiple tribes that move in different directions, at different speeds. We follow our neighborhood, our state or territory, our country, and our specialized circles of interest around the world.

But as cities become more closely woven through globalization, it is regionalism that becomes a threat to places like Chicago. I found Dr. Florida's suggestion that Chicago maintains no global geographic advantage particularly interesting because that very point highlights the exact problem posed by the rise of the global city: it has become very easy, in contemporary culture, to assume the inevitability of places like Chicago, which have in fact gained their prominence for very regional reasons. The loss of importance of physical regions and the diminished need for literal proximity represent a very basic but worldview-altering paradigm shift; Chicago is important in terms of American and especially Midwestern economics -- it rose as the transportation and distribution hub of the country -- but without increased efforts toward economic and connectivity diversity, it might just wind up as the Pittsburgh of the global megacity hierarchy.

Thanks again to Jim Russell for proposing this week's debate. Make sure to check out The Burgh Diaspora -- a must not just for Pittsburghers, but for anyone interested in learning more about diasporic networks in the global urban age.

(Photo found on FFFFOUND!. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

Chi-Pitts Globalization (The Burgh Diaspora)

Chi-Pitts, or Vice-versa (Richard Florida and the Creative Class Exchange)

Diasporas, In and Out (Richard Florida and the Creative Class Exchange)

1 comment:

Drew said...

Excellent debate! A few thoughts I had:

-As cities successfully replace industry with service/information/creative class economies, those cities will probably be meeting LESS of their own needs for physical commodities such as food, and will increasingly rely on bringing those goods in from elsewhere. Chicago will always be the freight rail hub for North America, and rail is still the most efficient way to ship commodities like grain and coal. In that sense, Chicago is guaranteed to remain a hugely important city for the North American economy (including Pittsburgh), if not the global economy.

-Florida mentions that Chicago does enjoy a global geographic advantage in air transport. This deserves more attention--O'Hare is one of the world's key airports and air travel is one of the pillars of the global economy. As the world progresses down the path of globalization, cities that have key roles in the global air travel network will benefit accordingly.