Chicago vs. Pittsburgh: Round 2

Tonight's post is the second 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.

Yesterday and today, in arguing Pittsburgh's heavier reliance on Chicago, The Burgh Diaspora made the following points:

(1) "Pittsburghers are using their extended network and doing all the heavy lifting concerning the connectivity between the two cities. On the other hand, I suspect that a Chicago located firm looking for opportunity discovers Pittsburgh through Pittsburghers, not via transplants to the City of Bridges."

(2) "Chicago needs the talent developed in Pittsburgh...However, Chicago is also an impressive producer of human capital. If Chicago retained all of its local graduates, then would the city need Pittsburgh at all? Like Pittsburgh, Chicago's research universities are world class. Furthermore, Chicago attracts global human capital in ways Pittsburgh has not...Chicago does not actively seek Pittsburgh talent, but Pittsburghers still move there as a result of established migration patterns[.]"

But these two passages, when read together, play off each other in a way that suggests that Chicago's reliance on Pittsburgh and other domestic second-tier cities plays a very major role in Chicago's establishing itself as a global city in the first place.

Let's start by looking at the second statement. Assuming that it were able to retain the talent developed at universities like U of Chicago, Northwestern, Loyola, and UIC, Chicago would indeed be sitting pretty. So would Pittsburgh, if it were able to retail all of the graduates of Pitt, CMU, and Duquense. This is, especially in a fluid global economy, impossible. As sociologists have recently documented, a new phase is being added to the life cycle for young people in developed countries: the odyssey. Young people have a tendency, once they have their diploma in hand, to strike out into the world, seeking their proverbial fortunes.

This creates a diasporic network of people across the country and the world with strong roots in a community other than they one in which they are living. As its title suggests, this is exactly what The Burgh Diaspora covers in depth: Pittsburgh's diasporic population, often considered to be one of the most extensive such networks. This is where cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, traditionally viewed as demographic "losers," gain a foothold. As the process of globalization continues to make centralization less of a necessity and more of a luxury, second-tier cities not only provide the cheaper business climate than their megacity counterparts (though, ironically, Pittsburgh is currently burdened by byzantine economic policies), they also become the default choice for smaller start-ups, making second-tier cities even more important incubators for the kind of talent needed to keep a megacity economy chugging along.

Back to the first of Burgh Diaspora's points: Pittsburgh's network, now, provides it with a unique opportunity to lift smaller businesses looking for a less overwhelming (read: risky) market in which to develop their product. Pittsburgh is able, through its extended diasporic network in Chicago, to earn free word-of-mouth advertising from its expatriate sons and daughters that could potentially drive these smaller companies east to the Appalachians. In the end, the Pittsburgh market is not as important to Chicago companies as the Chicago market is to Pittsburgh companies; I'll concede this. But in a global marketplace, Chicago's larger companies do need Pittsburgh's smaller ones to stay ahead of the international competition.

(Photo from Flickr user scoobyfoo. The original full-color version can be viewed by clicking the photo.)

IntoPittsburgh: Chicago (The Burgh Diaspora)

IntoPittsburgh: Chicago II (The Burgh Diaspora)

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