Why The 'Livable Cities' Rankings Are Wrong


Few topics stir more controversy between urbanists and civic boosters than city rankings. What truly makes a city "great," or even "livable"? The answers, and how these surveys determine them, are often subjective, narrow or even misguided. What makes a "great" city on one list can serve as a detriment on another.

Recent rankings of the "best" cities around the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Monocle magazine and the Mercer quality of life surveys settled on a remarkably similar list. For the most part, the top ranks are dominated by well-manicured older European cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Vienna, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Munich, as well as New World metropolises like Vancouver and Toronto; Auckland, New Zealand; and Perth and Melbourne in Australia.  read more »

The Republican Party, Pennsylvania and Arlen Specter


Senator Arlen Specter switched parties. A five term Senator switching parties is certainly news, but it also represents a far greater statement about the challenges facing the Republican Party in Pennsylvania going forward.

Pennsylvania has been a dependable “Blue State” in presidential races since 1988. Currently, Democrats have a 1.2 million voter registration advantage. Less than a decade ago the margin was less than 500,000. What changed over the past decade?  read more »

Rust Belt Outliers


What kind of migration patterns will emerge as a result of the current economic downturn? The recession is uneven; some places are much worse off than others. Those differences can give labor cause to move. Economic geographer Edward Glaeser thinks cities with marginal manufacturing legacies should attract a lot of people because the well-educated, living in dense urban environments, should get through the crisis relatively unscathed. If Glaeser is correct, then shrinking Rust Belt cities can expect more of the same even after the recovery begins in earnest. Pittsburgh brains should continue to drain.  read more »

Postindustrial Strength Brain Drain Policy


In the discussions of the stimulus and infrastructure problem, little attention has yet been paid to addressing brain drain. Yet for many regions – particularly in the old industrial heartland – no issue could be more critical.

Perhaps the most important investment in regional human capital occurs at local schools. Enterprise looks to the secondary and post-secondary institutions within the area for labor. In this regard, it makes sense to fund better learning with local and state taxes as long as that talent remains within that geography.  read more »

Rust Belt Realities: Pittsburgh Needs New Leaders, New Ideas and New Citizens


The current recession provides a new opportunity for Pittsburgh's elite to feel good about itself. With other boom economies from Phoenix to Miami on the skids – and other old Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo even more down on their luck – the slow-growth achievements of the Pittsburgh region may seem rather impressive.

Yet at the same time, the downturn also poses longer-term challenges for which the local leadership is likely to have no answers.  read more »

Pittsburgh Turns 250 Years Old Today


But instead of a nice birthday card, my home town of Pittsburgh could use a sympathy card. It’s been a tough last 100 years for a once great and powerful city.

The first 150 years were not so bad. On Nov. 25, 1758 British Gen. John Forbes named the city for prime minister William Pitt after chasing the French from the militarily and economically strategic triangle of land where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio.  read more »

Pittsburgh's Brain Drain Game


Rust Belt communities are obsessed with brain drain. The demographic losers of economic restructuring, cities are employing a variety of strategies to stop the bleeding and keep the talent from leaving the region. Akron, OH recently voted down a proposal to lease the city’s sewer system in order to fund a scholarship program designed to plug the holes of out-migration. The voters balked at the initiative partly as a result of the 30-year residential commitment necessary to reap the full benefits of the funding for post-secondary education in Akron schools.  read more »