Heartland Intelligence


There have been some big changes for me. We relocated from New York to Indianapolis, where I’m doing consulting work for the Indy Chamber. I’m no longer full time with the Manhattan Institute but am still a contributing editor at City Journal and still have multiple projects in the works there. I’ll continue to write for other publications too, as with my recent Atlantic piece on J. Irwin Miller and Columbus, Indiana. More on my move below.

For several years I’ve published a monthly newsletters on cities that was mostly a roundup of the month’s best links. I put that on hiatus while I was completing my move.

Now that I’ve landed in Indy, I’m relaunching my newsletter as a paid subscriber only briefing called Heartland Intelligence. For a price of $5/month, Heartland Intelligence will provide data, analysis, and insight into the greater Midwest region and its cities as we come into a critical election year where this region will determine the outcome. I will also continue to include my curated list of the best links of the month.

Heartland Intelligence will be free until April, so please subscribe to check it out risk free over the next two months. Even once it goes paid, I will also be publishing a short, free version to all subscribers, so you’ll want to be on the list for that regardless.

My existing newsletter subscribers have all been added to the free version of the newsletter and can upgrade if they like.

This post is a sample of what Heartland Intelligence will be. A version of it already went out to my existing newsletter subscribers. So even before signing up you can get a flavor of what it’s going to be like.

I am planning to use the Substack platform for this. It’s new to me so please bear with any transition bumps. One benefit of Substack is that old newsletters will be available as a blog feed. New readers can subscribe or check it out at https://aaronrenn.substack.com/.

Pittsburgh Global City

I recently made a short visit to Pittsburgh, a source of frequent media articles about Rust Belt revival. Summary:

  • Pittsburgh has managed to create a genuine bubble of global city in the urban center.
  • Home to Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google – drawn by Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Duolingo recently first local startup to achieve $1B valuation. As noted by Chris Briem and Mike MadisonPittsburgh’s draw is predominantly for corporate research, not startups.
  • Briem: “Duolingo not withstanding, Pittsburgh continues to stand out for its lack of organic entrepreneurial growth & there have been very few $billion-ish startups incubated in Pittsburgh in recent decades.”
  • In-city neighborhoods like Shadyside have outposts of national upscale retailers like Apple, Lululemon, Patagonia, and Williams-Sonoma. Besides Pittsburgh, only much larger regions Chicago and Minneapolis have accomplished this in Midwest.
  • City of Pittsburgh has legacy built form similarities to coastal cities: dense, geographic constraints, walkable in-city commercial districts, transit friendly. Also has legitimate “deep history” and unique city culture and dialect.
  • Pittsburgh metro is a top 10 major metro city for transit commuting at 5.6% mode share – higher than LA, Minneapolis, SLC, San Jose, Denver.
  • Pittsburgh’s metro demographics are highly unusual. Has lowest share of children (<18) and highest share of seniors (>=65) of any major metro; has more deaths than births
  • Pittsburgh is by far the whitest major metro in the US at 85.3%.
  • Black population is declining in city and in hot neighborhoods like East Liberty, suggesting some displacement is occurring. This is possibly a legitimate example of gentrification in the Midwest (see below).
  • Nearly 50% of metro residents aged 25-34 have a college degree – seventh highest in US – higher than Seattle, Austin, Denver .
  • See recent City Journal article on city by native John Tierney.
  • See article on 40% reduction in opioid deaths last year in Pittsburgh

Heartland Data: Black Population Change

The Heartland’s demographic divergence shows up in sharper relief when examining black population change. Select metro areas for Black Only population change based on Census estimates.

Rank Metro Area 2010 2018 Total Change Pct Change
1 Fargo, ND-MN 4,546 (2.2%) 14,007 (5.7%) 9,461 208.12%
2 Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 28,195 (4.9%) 37,254 (5.7%) 9,059 32.13%
3 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 250,717 (7.5%) 325,384 (9.0%) 74,667 29.78%
4 Columbus, OH 279,455 (14.7%) 343,458 (16.3%) 64,003 22.90%
5 Madison, WI 27,083 (4.5%) 31,229 (4.7%) 4,146 15.31%
6 Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 280,916 (14.8%) 323,858 (15.8%) 42,942 15.29%
7 Lexington-Fayette, KY 52,392 (11.1%) 59,219 (11.5%) 6,827 13.03%
8 Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 67,619 (6.8%) 76,401 (7.1%) 8,782 12.99%
9 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 176,040 (14.2%) 193,930 (14.9%) 17,890 10.16%
10 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 258,984 (12.2%) 280,131 (12.8%) 21,147 8.17%
11 Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 70,000 (8.1%) 75,021 (8.0%) 5,021 7.17%
12 Kansas City, MO-KS 259,538 (12.9%) 273,482 (12.8%) 13,944 5.37%
13 Rochester, NY 128,302 (11.9%) 131,214 (12.3%) 2,912 2.27%
14 Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY 141,795 (12.5%) 143,961 (12.7%) 2,166 1.53%
15 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 265,896 (17.1%) 268,160 (17.0%) 2,264 0.85%
16 Pittsburgh, PA 198,671 (8.4%) 199,103 (8.6%) 432 0.22%
17 St. Louis, MO-IL 519,266 (18.6%) 519,190 (18.5%) -76 -0.01%
18 Cleveland-Elyria, OH 422,588 (20.4%) 421,393 (20.5%) -1,195 -0.28%
19 Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 986,026 (23.0%) 970,319 (22.4%) -15,707 -1.59%
20 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 1,680,657 (17.7%) 1,616,695 (17.0%) -63,962 -3.81%


  • Several regions with low historic black population share – Fargo, Des Moines, MSP, Grand Rapids – are showing robust black population growth
  • Conversely, the four metros with black population decline are the four with the highest black population share.
  • Pittsburgh both had low initial share and regional black population stagnation.
  • Sorting by total population, Minneapolis and Columbus, both with large Somali refugee increases, rank #1 and #2. Unclear how much black population change is driven by int’l vs. domestic migration. Indianapolis is #3 with about 2x the total influx of #4 Cincinnati.

Moving to Indianapolis

As noted, my family just moved to Indianapolis. We are living in a near downtown neighborhood called Fletcher Place. Why? Some reasons are prosaic. I moved to NYC as a single and left married with a two year old. Both my family and my wife’s are in Indiana. When our son was born and people asked if we planned to stay, my reply was always, “No plans to leave right now, but the Upper West Side is full of kids and 90% of them are 5 and under, so odds are I’ll become a statistic eventually.”

There’s a lot to miss about NYC and I have nothing negative to say about it. I continue to say that in many ways it’s the greatest city in the world.

But there’s a positive draw to Indy too. It was fine when I left in 2014, but even just in the last five years, the city has improved radically. I am actually already enjoying better bread, coffee, ice cream, meats, diners, etc. than I had in NYC. Yes, better – not just cheaper. The Red Line BRT makes transit viable in Indy for the first time – and we’ve been using it.

Read the rest of this piece at aaronrenn.com.

Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities and people thrive and find real success in the 21st century.

Photo credit: tpsdave via Wikimedia, Public Domain.